I'm back in Las Vegas for another round of cage-side action courtesy of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bleacher Report. This time around, I'm attending UFC 109: Relentless at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino...and monorail.
Honestly, I'm at a loss to describe the sheer amount of real estate this place covers. You might be able to leave the State of Nevada without walking outside.
After a certain amount of absolute time in Sin City, your brain becomes numb to all the ostentatious visual extravagance—I'm at that point. Consequently, the "dear GOD" reaction once elicited by the pseudo-hookers, fake breasts, elbow-to-wrist-to-neck bling, neon lights, and all the other incessant sights and sounds of this city is wearing off.
Even on Super Bowl Weekend.
But the enormity and complexity of the bigger casinos will never become blase. I'm surprised more people don't get lost and starve to death in the lower catacombs of some of these places.
If I disappear in the next two days, send a search and rescue team to the basements of the Mandalay Bay. That's not entirely a joke, either—if it weren't for some helpful staff members, I might be groping around beneath the Strip still trying to find the weigh-ins.
Shockingly, however, casinos administrators are prepared for such contingencies (read: morons) so I was safely in my seat before the curtain officially rose on the festivities.
Rise it did.
For mixed martial art fans who are openly hostile to the fight card because of a relatively ho-hum lineup, my advice would be to attend the next live event in your area and, if possible, check out the weigh-ins.
The entire spectacle is like one extended stay in the Baltimore Ravens' pre-game huddle and it WILL get you amped for a fight. Any fight, even one between your little sister and Greg Nagy (I did).
Joe Rogan's circus-barker approach to the microphone isn't quite Ray Lewis woofing, but, really, who is?
Plus, Joe doesn't need to be Ray-Ray because he's got help from a whole lotta promotion and emotion.
He's got help from a ridiculously loud public address system, pumping musical adrenaline into your veins through your ears. He's got help from the crowd of rabid onlookers—piqued by the gorgeous ring girls or the stripped down fighters or both.
Incidentally, Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard shouldn't be allowed to peal down to his skivvies. Either he, ahem, enjoys the attention a little too much or he should be booking a photo shoot with Greg Oden.
Regardless, the UFC needs to take pity on the women, children, and insecure men in the audience (anyone have that number for ExtenZe?).
Where was I? Oh yeah...
Most importantly, Rogan's got help from those dumb, behind-the-scenes vignettes about the gladiators and their plans of attack.
I say "dumb" because I can never pay attention to the canned superlative diatribes for more than 30 seconds when I run across a similar offering in the serenity of my living room. Everyone's always in the best shape of their lives, working as hard as they've ever worked, adding devastating new facets to their games, etc., etc., et freakin' cetera.
Forgive me if I'm not entirely persuaded.
But drop those bad boys into the sea of pr-emotion (get it—promotion that leverages emotion) on a screen the size of a small house and it's a whole different story.
When Paulo Thiago is 15 feet tall and going through his Batalhão de Operações Especiais paces (Brazilian special forces of which Thiago is a member) with thousands of cheering fans in the house endorsing the sincerity, let's just say the effect is profound and a bit harder to ignore.
Especially when Thiago, himself, takes the stage about 20 minutes later.
The result is the same whether the monster image is Thiago or Mike "Quick" Swick articulating just how significant this unofficial rubber match is.
The Brazilian already owns a stunning victory over Swick's American Kickboxing Academy teammate, Josh "Kos" Koscheck (at UFC 95). Subsequently, he lost a hard-fought unanimous decision to another one of Swick's AKA stablemates (Jon Fitch) at UFC 100.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that all four men are welterweights so there are divisional bragging rights at stake.
Maybe if Swick loses, AKA will take a new approach and send Herschel Walker after Thiago.
Of course, these guys were only the appetizers. You better believe the chills were going full bore when time came for the main event's combatants to take the stage.
Both Mark "The Hammer" Coleman and Randy "The Natural" Couture spent their vignettes talking of career rejuvenation, genuine respect for his opponent, and an even more genuine desire to rip his antagonist limb from limb.
Two Hall-of-Famers hell bent for the other's leather? Count me in.
If you can't tell, I lapped up every bit of the hype. Even licked the bottom of the Kool-Aid bowl.
But I swear it's not my fault.
All the bluster is undeniable in the right setting and the UFC has found its recipe for "the right setting."
By the end of the hour or so of madness, it didn't matter that no hardware will be on the line Saturday night. It didn't matter that the young names on the card weren't the biggest and the big names weren't the youngest.
It didn't matter because the audience only cared about one thing, that it was spoiling for a fight.
And that's exactly what we're gonna get on Saturday.