So I turned 37 last week, and to celebrate, I took off of work most of last week and tried to take in as many of the events and promotions the UFC offered during their visit to Dallas in prep for UFC 171. This isn’t the UFC’s first visit to Dallas. In 2009, the promotion brought Rich Franklin/Vitor Belfort & Crop-Cop/Dos Santos to North Texas and later, Strikeforce: Overeem v. Werdum. Having seen all of Zuffa’s offering to Dallas, UFC 171 stands head and shoulders above their past efforts. Every event I attended was brimming with fight fans from every background.
The difference between the 2009 event and 2014 is noticeable just from a visual standpoint of the demographics in attendance. The hordes of Affliction/Tapout/Dethrone t-shirt tough guys from 2009 had been replaced in droves by couples, young people, children, even the infirmed (at one of the meet-and-greets I went to, there was an elderly couple, each with a seeing service dog and a wheel chair). It was a real delight to see such a broad swath of fans the UFC has managed to tap into.
The pre-fight, end-of-the-week highlight included a one-two punch of a Fight Club Q&A session with Anthony Pettis and to the surprise of those in attendance Chad Mendes, and then the weigh-ins. Some observations from the Q&A, the weigh-ins, and the fight itself:
- While the fan base has evolved since the 2009 show, the fight IQ of said fan base hasn’t been able to keep pace. Anthony Pettis and Chad Mendes were asked on 11 different occasions for pictures and autographs and were asked to either take of their shirts or sleep with members of the audience on at least 4 different occasions. To their credit as pros, they tried to accommodate each legitimate request and question with a response, but when one fan asked Pettis (and I’m paraphrasing) if he faked an injury to get out of fighting Aldo only to then fight Benson Henderson, you could tell Showtime as well as the audience had had enough. I realize fans are not the media. They don’t have the same motivations in their questions, and even though seeing a lot of fans turn into the Chris-Farley-interviewing-Paul-McCartney character from SNL is funny and cute, it would really help to have someone from the UFC hosting the Q&A with a little crowd quality control experience.
- The weigh-ins are an event unto themselves. A thousand people filed into Gilley’s Southside Ballroom to get a glimpse with fighters both known and not-so-well known. There were just as many people craning their necks to get a view of Joe Rogan and Nick Diaz as there were trying to get pictures with Luke Barnatt. Oh, and to the contingent of MMA misogynists that cry no one is interested in seeing women’s MMA/that women fighters are not as talented as the men/that women’s division is shallow/that women’s MMA is a marketing ploy by Dana, no other fighters, aside from those on the main event, got as loud of a pop as Jessica Andrade and Raquel Pennington when they were announced. Live with it, don’t live with it, but as Iceman King Parsons used to say, “It bees that way some times.”
- The crowds were huge EVERYWHERE. I was able to attend a meet-and-greet with Uriah Hall, which was one of a half dozen that took place over the week at various MetroPCS stores. Other meet-and-greet attendees included Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey, Matt Hughes, Jeremy Stephens, and Phil Davis. The Rousey line was so long, they were forced to cut people off. I received similar reports from other people I know that similar instances happened with the Cain appearances as well, which leads me to believe the UFC severely underestimate interest. I know the partnership with MetroPCS is one that allows for these fan one-on-ones, but all this tells me is that Dallas is ready for its own fan expo. Dave Sholler, the PR Director for the UFC said as much last night when he tweeted:
- The fight itself was a sellout, which UFC officials predicted; however, there were tons of fans in attendance for the prelims which started at 5 PM. No one ever shows for the prelims except for the die-hard fans. The arenas always look so empty on TV during the prelims, but in the ACC the fans piled in before the PPV broadcast and gave it a full feeling. By the time the PPV started the arena was swelling with people and the decibel level continued to rise. It was the kind of response Mark Cuban wishes he had every time the Mavs play.
- The next time the UFC comes to North Texas, it has to zero in on At&T Stadium. Dallas is ready for it. Throw in a fan expo and a main event worthy of a stadium show (the possible return of GSP against Hendricks, perhaps), and baby, you got a stew going.