BY Todd Dybas 10:50PM 03/26/2011

Slick thunder delivered by UFC

Fight Night in KeyArena covers all aspects of burgeoning business

Production and poundings make the UFC a growing product. KeyArena was sold out Saturday night for the organization's first card in Washington state. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Upon arriving for UFC Fight Night at KeyArena, I walked past shiny “Medic One,” one of the city’s finest ambulances, and into rib-rattling bass. There I witnessed an immediate victory. Nik Lentz, 26, a pre-med student at the University of Minnesota one semester from graduating, won by air-pipe restriction. Everyone was happy.

The first Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Washington state came with plenty of rumble Saturday night. But the UFC still slogs to make the fore of traditional sports pages. It will land in town, sell out events, receive pub from the local “mainstream” media, then pack up and be forgotten by scribes and grumpy editors.

The organization could not care less. Its fervent following has allowed it to swell from from a trifling business to a boom industry getting dramatic response because of marketing, production and savvy. Also helping is humanity’s general attachment to menace.

Pre-conceived assumptions cloud the actual athletic refinement by many of the fighters who work in the black-padded octagon. It’s not strictly barbarism.

The sport accelerated in the early 1990s behind the magical work of Royce Gracie, a Brazilian ju-jitsu master who donned an angelic white gi while contorting the joints of larger opponents until they crumbled.

Once the business was acquired in 2001 by Zuffa, LLC — a company headed by the casino-owning brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta — the sport was polished and rebranded. Buffing the product with better rules, medical care and common sense allowed it to move away from being labeled a scourge and to develop its voracious fan base. A crafty television deal with Spike TV also provided drama and exposure, acquiring the age 18-39 eyeballs advertisers covet.

As much as it is possible for the act of one man demolishing another, UFC became palatable for big-name sponsors. The graphics, lighting and production delivered during the pay-per-view event in Portland in 2009, and Saturday in KeyArena, rival the big-event productions.

Four flat screens hang in arena corners. The gregarious, bald leader of UFC, president Dana White, claims the Seattle event was originally planned for 8,000 attendees. Because of response, every seat in the arena not obscured by a city-block-sized flat screen was filled.

They come to watch thoroughly trained assassins. Some have college degrees. Most have cauliflower ears from a history in wrestling. The nose bridges of others are permanently shifted from an exclamation point to a z.

Dan Hardy, bottom, and Anthony Johnson spent most of the night locked up on the mat. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Skull-thumping fists and feet combine with music to key to production. Lapping the octagon are girls barely contained by red and black gear that allows spillable parts to spill. Hugh Hefner has paid some of them to leave the flimsy resistance behind, earning their own fame. The overall package is a form of mental fornication for attendees.

That sells. The collaboration of violence and sex is a time-tested revenue producer. For UFC 129, the next pay-per-view event a month away in Toronto, the company claims to have sold 55,000 tickets in minutes. If true, that will be the largest audience to witness a mixed martial arts event in North America.

No matter how slick storyline development is, not all states are willing participants. The UFC still wrestles with various regulatory bodies, including the one in Washington.

Prior to the 2009 event in Portland, White claimed a big event in Seattle was next. It took him two years to get here despite numerous training camps in the area and a lineage of kickboxing and boxing throughout the state. As of now, the UFC is regulated in 44 of 48 states, including Washington. Often the higher minds attempting to keep out the UFC back down when learning the cash an event can generate.

No surprise UFC managed to get its circus into downtown Seattle. The question is why it took so long ,considering the ample area roots in mixed martial arts. Kickboxer Maurice Smith, a Seattle native, won a world title in 1983. He then spent 10 consecutive years without a loss. UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture is from Everett, and one of the sport’s most legendary names.

Matt Hume runs a world-renowned Pankration academy in Kirkland, teaching the ancient fighting style preferred by Greeks. It’s the approach Theseus is said to have used to defeat the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

Japanese, UFC and PRIDE fighters are sent to Hume for training. Many of Hume’s understudies have used the knowledge to sprout training facilities of their own, from Olympia to Vancouver.

Saturday, the live television cameras were off and the main event loomed hours away. But the red seats were occupied when bantamweights (125-135 pounds) Michael McDonald and Edwin Figueroa arrived for their night’s work.

McDonald walked in 11-1, Figueroa 7-0, neither known. Together they provided the ferocity, technical eloquence and respect that are by-products of a fight done right.

McDonald controlled the first round by ducking wide Figueroa punches. He put the Texan on the ground and attempted to bend his arm and ankle until he decided the pain was too much.

Figueroa never capitulated. He slammed McDonald to the mat in the second round. Later he attempted a front kick that whizzed just short of the tiring man’s chin. Both began to wilt. Each wondered why he could not dispatch the other.

Those thoughts, those blows, led them into the middle of the ring to begin the final five-minute round. Each smirked, they hugged. Then they punched each other in the head.

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