Rattling the Cage Book Review: “Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC from the Man Who Created It”

August 22nd, 2014 by Tony Reid

untitled (18)As a huge fan of the early days of NHB, (pre) MMA and the UFC I was very much looking forward to reading “Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC from the Man Who Created It” by one of the founders of the UFC himself, Mr. Art Davie.

The book is a great nuts and bolts, blow by blow of the day to day trials and tribulations leading up to the historical night of November 12, 1993 when the world changed forever as UFC 1 was held in the McNichols Area in Denver Colorado. Davie shares in great detail the contract snafus, the back and forth with Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) and of course his ever growing relationships with Campbell McLaren, Rorion Grace and other members of the Gracie Family.

The story Davie tells is as much of an idea coming to fruition (one that just may have started when the young boxer Davie was first in a scrap and taken down by a thick necked wrestler so many years ago) through hard work, dedication and a never say die attitude.

As with any great idea comes great pushback from those with short sight and other hang-ups and many of these oppositions are detailed in the book as well, including the great pushback from members of the traditional martial arts community as they were quick to shoot down the idea of mixed fights, generally for business related reasons and egotistical concerns.

Davie takes us behind the scenes and behind closed doors as he touches on the Gracie Family beef between the eldest son Rorion and the brother who was seemingly in line to take the reins of the Gracie Family into the next generation, Rickson.  Davie sheds some light on just how much Rorion wanted to please his father and family patriarch Helio as well as honor the Gracie name, Gracie Jiu Jitsu and the Gracie Diet.

Dave also details the fighter’s colorful personalities, their actions and mindset leading up to the event. Great insights about just how batshit crazy Pat Smith really was (not surprising), how guarded the Gracie Family was of Royce leading up to the event (again not a shocker) and how much an out of shape and overweight Kevin Rosier enjoyed Snickers washed down with a Dr. Pepper as staples of his diet leading up to UFC 1.

Another great story shared in the book (and one Art had shared with me on my radio show) was that of Royce breaking down in the hours leading up to the event, right there in the center of the Octagon as Rickson cradled him and helped him through that impossible moment.

Davie details how he went from an advertising professional and a low level Gracie Jiu Jitsu student under Rorion to becoming one of his trusted partners, a confidant and co-creator of an entirely new sport, the sport of mixed martial arts in general and specifically the Ultimate Fighting Championship brand.

I may be a bit partial, as I am one who can’t get enough information on the early days of the sport but I feel that this is a great (and quick) read for the hardcore fan (as some juicy information is shared about the Gracie Family and the early pioneers of UFC 1) to the casual observer that may not be aware of much of the information Davie shares in the pages of the book. Go out and pick this book up and get schooled on the early days and origin of the sport you watch today.

My Day in Columbus with The Immortal One

July 30th, 2014 by Tony Reid

Our trip started in eastern Pennsylvania Sunday night as we headed west slicing through West Virginia and finally to Ohio, specifically Columbus, Ohio. We made it just in time to crash for the night at the local Red Roof Inn before preparing for our full day with the Immortal one himself, Matt Brown.

We were up and out the door by 8am headed to Galloway, Ohio which is about 5 miles outside Columbus and where Matt, Colleen, Hunter and Connor Brown reside. We were greeted at the door by the kids, who informed Colleen that “Tony and a lady in a pink shirt were here.”

We were greeted by the Brown’s German Shepard Harley. It is well known that Matt is a Harley Davidson guy, even recently receiving a motorcycle of his own, and I joked that the dog Harley was big enough for the kids to have a Harley to ride around the house. Matt isn’t the only one on the house in training mode, the ten month old dog Harley is still being trained and is a big fan of sharing his enthusiasm (and fluids) with anyone that comes to visit.

As Colleen made breakfast for the kids and Matt pounded protein shakes I noticed a number of computer printouts hanging around the downstairs of the house intended to keep Matt in the right mindset and constantly focused on the task at hand. From “Fight Smart” to “Eat Clean” hanging on the cabinets in the kitchen to the picture of Robbie Lawler hanging on the back of the Brown’s front door that states “I Will Defeat Robbie Lawler on July 26th”.

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Matt also has an interesting and unique way of getting the ever elusive goal of a perfectly clean blender. He simply adds dish soap and hot water and literally blends it. I joked that we could do a special technique section in the magazine for blender cleaning with Matt Brown.

As we hopped in Matt’s big black Jeep Wrangler to get in his first workout of the day, a 9am strength and conditioning session at the legendary Westside Barbell, Matt told me that those little notes hanging around the house keep him focused and that they act as motivational tools, whether it’s consciously or even subconsciously. Colleen joked earlier that Matt is getting tired of seeing the same old played out phrases and is tempted to change them up a bit.

Matt had been a bit under the weather and had to pull back a bit as far as training was concerned. He was in the process of bringing his trusted coaches and allies in for the camp for the biggest fight of his professional life, the five round main event of the UFC Fight Night card on July 26th in San Jose California televised live on FOX against Robbie Lawler set as a title eliminator in the welterweight division.

We hit Westside Barbell at 9am and Matt wasted very little time in getting down to business. He began with some band resisted running on a treadmill, he added a number of intense ab work, and throw in some weighted walking around the parking lot of the entire facility, and a few special techniques and an hour and a half later the Immortal’s morning session is complete.

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Westside Barbell is the mecca for lifting heavy things and putting them down. They are the standard by which all others are measured in the field of power lifting. They hold countless national titles and world records, as well as housing and honing a number of high performance athletes in other sports. MMA legend Kevin Randleman spent time there and is still revered by many at the gym.

Westside Barbell is to power lifting what the UFC is to MMA, Westside is a private “Invitation Only” elite training facility in Columbus, Ohio. It was created by world-renowned power lifter Louie Simmons. Louie is one of only five power lifters to total Elite in five different powerlifting weight classes. He has been a top 10 lifter for over 30 years. For the last 37 years Simmons has totalled Elite in various power-lifting organizations. He is one of two lifters over 50 years of age to squat 920 pounds, bench 600 pounds and dead lift 722 pounds and total 2100 pounds, and was ranked 4th nationally in 2000 in the open. In other words he is a total beast. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to speak with the icon that is Simmons, and as he stood there post workout with fresh blood on his sneakers, he raved about Brown and what he is capable of currently and in future potential.

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As Matt’s training session was winding down I decided to hop in and get a crash course and some firsthand experience of what his training is all about. After a few ab exercises, a run on what Matt called a torture device and lastly a few go rounds on a device that was invented by Louie himself I found myself in the parking lot praying to all that is holy that I wouldn’t pass out in front of one of the toughest SOBs on the planet. My prayers were answered and after a cup or two of water I was good to go.

We left the gym and met up with Colleen and the boys for a much needed lunch at the local Applebee’s. It was great seeing Matt go from beast mode to daddy mode and interacting with the kids. Brown plays a fun little game with his son in which he asks the obviously cheery, happy, playful young Brown if he’s mad until well, the little one gets mad. Colleen jokes that Matt finds great pleasure in instigating the kids in this fashion and that it should be noted in the piece.

We finished lunch and Matt and I made a quick run to Lowe’s to in the attempt to find an outlet or cord that would do the trick and help to finish installing the recently purchased sauna in his basement. On the way to Lowe’s Matt made it a point to inform me that he enjoys making trips to the local Wal-Mart, which he calls the trashiest Wal-Mart on the planet, to people watch. The odds of seeing mullets and worse are very high at the Georgesville Wal-Mart in South Columbus according to the Immortal. Even during the trip to Lowe’s Matt was no nonsense. I doubt that any of the Lowe’s associates knew how close they were to greatness, or possibly death, if the part in question was not found. Luckily we got assistance from a friendly associate and headed back to the house to finish the job. This was the first time in a long time that Brown was unable to finish the job. Even the Immortal was not comfortable working with electricity, at least not outside the cage.

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I did inadvertently uncover the one weakness of the seemingly weakness-free Immortal. Matt is a complete impulse shopper. He jokingly said had I not been with him for the ride to the home improvement store he could have easily spent hours and hours looking around and eventually picking up unneeded goods. The need to shop applies not only to hardware but to speakers, headphones and anything else Brown feels the need to pick up in the moment.

Speaking of finances we visited on the day that Matt opened the mail to find his bonus check from his Fight of the Year performance against Erick Silva. We were all sitting around the table as he opened it and it became obvious what was inside the envelope. I purposely looked away until he put it in my hand, and in that moment I held in my hand the biggest check I had ever seen in my life. It was still a moment of joy yet reflection and introspection, the Browns were very happy to have the money but just as quickly to note that the next check is never promised and that God forbid, this could be a check that needs to last an extended period of time if an injury or unforeseen obstacle was to present itself.

Matt has had his eye on an RV type of luxury vehicle, (somewhat) joking that he might be able to finally make that purchase a reality. It was clear that a number of ideas, thoughts and concerns were running through his mind in the hours after opening the mail that day. Brown is a very well read, introspective, thoughtful man. We talked at length about politics, religion and finances. He is a deep thinker and it was obvious that he wanted to weigh all his options, do the right thing and make the most of this money and opportunity.

As our day with the family wound down we all sat in the living room and Matt proceeded to instigate his son into one more “Are you mad?” game. This time around the younger Brown go the last word, asking in an increasingly agitated voice “Do you think you are tough?” That great comeback wasn’t lost on anyone in the room as we all broke out in laughter. Connor and Hunter Brown are probably the only two people in the world that could get away with asking that question while being in the same room as Matt Brown.

My Time at The 6th Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards

February 9th, 2014 by Tony Reid

awards6-631x500-featuredAs it has many times before our attempt to get out of Pennsylvania during the winter season was interesting. I followed the weather forecast more in the days leading up to my trip than in the previous 10 years combined. I felt like I was in training to take over for Jim Cantore. But I digress, we were flying out of lovely Harrisburg, PA with Sin City being our final destination for the 6th Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards.

We knew going in that weather was going to be an issue. We just didn’t know how much of an issue. We woke up at 2am Wednesday morning to about 5 to 6 inches of snow already falling with no end in sight. I shoveled and shoveled some more while my wife got ready and (finally) finished packing. I white knuckled the one hour drive that turned in to a two hour drive as we drove through sleet, snow and freezing rain. We rushed through the check in, rushed through security and as I ran over to the gate with no shoes on I sadly learned that the flight was delayed. I should have figured that much!

We sat in Harrisburg for a few hours until we took flight headed toward Chicago. We finally got to the Windy City and it lived up to its moniker. There were 25 to 35 mile an hour gusting winds, so as you can imagine, we were once again delayed.

The next leg of our trip was scheduled for San Francisco. As you might imagine our flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas had already departed before we even hit the ground in Cali. We were lucky enough to get booked for the very next flight out and were only delayed another hour or so. If you are keeping track at home we were scheduled to land in Las Vegas at 10am and touched down around 10pm…but hey, we made it!

As we were idling in Chicago I received a text from Dave Farra, the host of the World MMA Awards pre show, who spoke to the President, CEO and Owner of Fighters Only Rob Hewitt, asking if I would like to join the expert panel for the red carpet pre show. Of course I happily accepted and immediately got the wheels turning.

We finally got out of the last plane for a few days and started to enjoy the city. We stayed on the cheap and went with Harrah’s which is right next to the Venetian, where everything was taking place for us this week. We were like the kids coming from the other side of the tracks.

One of, if not the, first order of business was to get me cleaned up and in a tux for this black tie affair. We reached out to a local shop that actually came right to my room, took my measurements, made alterations back at the shop and dropped the tux off at my room the next morning. It was easier than ordering a pizza! Not only was it easy but this dude had stories! He was telling us about actors, entertainers and athletes that he has worked with over the past 30 plus years. He also gave us some “insight” into how Las Vegas operates.

Through Fighters Only I had an interview with Ben Askren scheduled for Thursday. We were to meet at the Café Presse in the Venetian. We met there and quickly realized it was way too loud to hear ourselves think let alone record an interview. Ben was accompanied by his wife Amy and their young daughter. We decided to find a new location to sit down and we eventually made our way to a lovely waterfall and plant filled wonderland.

It was great to catch up with the Askren’s as Michelle and Amy chatted Ben and I started our interview. Ben was accompanied by Loren Mack, the PR Director for ONEFC. The interview went well. Loren even came bearing gifts of t-shirts, key chains and other items, which is always a good thing. As we were doing our interview Brian Stann came rolling by and we exchanged pleasantries. I have never met Brian before so I said hello in hopes he would recognize my ugly mug the next day in preparation for the show.

After we left the interview we went over to the venue to pick up our golden tickets for the following night’s show. I was extremely excited as we were on the VIP list, which included great seats for the event, access to the VIP pre party, access to the red carpet and all kinds of other cool stuff. We snagged the tickets after being helped by a few of the great staff members on hand.

After interviews and random stuff Thursday we went out and strolled around that night. As we were shopping at the Venetian we bumped into Brian Stann and his wife. We talked for a few minutes about the upcoming show, Pennsylvania and gym ownership cautionary tales. Brian and his wife Teressa are awesome, awesome people and it was great to finally get to meet them in person.

Friday was a big day for me to say the least. I had a number of things on the schedule including a rehearsal at 4pm for the red carpet pre show that I was a panelist on, the red carpet opened at 4pm, the actual pre show went live at 5pm, the cocktail reception was from 5pm to 7pm, the show seating started at 7pm, the show itself went live at 7:30pm and the after party at TAO started after the show. Trust me, I’m not complaining.

I prepped for the show most of the morning while Michelle got her hair did. We went over to the venue about an hour early so I could get my bearings and get ready to roll. When I got to the Venetian Theatre pre show host Dave Farra was already rehearsing. I grabbed a seat in the audience and waited my turn. I was actually the only panelist that showed up for the rehearsal. When I first hit the stage I was a bit out of my element. The bright lights, the audience, the material, the teleprompters, even the little stuff like getting mic’d up was new to me. The very first segment of rehearsal I was a bit off but after that everything was gravy. I was comfortable and ready to go. I don’t know if anyone knew but this was the first time I was on a live television feed, so it took a second to acclimate but after that it was on like Donkey Kong.

The rehearsal went well and we mingled for a few minutes before the show was to start. I spoke with Travis Browne for a few minutes about his love and my dislike for country music. That is a topic he and I have gone back and forth on a few times recently. It’s a running joke that my wife is trying to get me into country but I just can’t commit to it. About 30 minutes prior to going live I had to head down to the production area to get my makeup…yes, to get my makeup done. This was definitely a first as well. I sat down in front of the bright lights and let a very talented lady do my lips, my eyebrows and airbrush my ugly grill. The other panelists came through and did the same. I felt as if I got a bit of masculinity back when Brian Stann came in and got his makeup done, too.

We, the panelists and Stann were just talking in the hallway waiting to head back upstairs and for the show to start. Some of the nest moments in this sport and with my job are moments like this, off the record stuff that guys talk about when we are just standing around. Let’s just say we had great conversation.

I made my way upstairs and back stage as the show went live. My first on air segment was with Greg Savage of Sherdog. We sat with Dave on stage and talked about a number of the categories. And then later in the show we did the same thing again. As a grand finale all panelists were on stage for the final segment to discuss Fighter of the Year category and a few other topics. If you haven’t seen the show yet you can check it out here… http://streaming.bodybuilding.com/2014-world-mma-awards/

Overall it was an extremely fun and valuable experience, especially if I am going to consider taking steps toward a career in that area of the sport. I was honored that the people at Fighters Only thought enough of me to include me in this amazing night for the entire sport of mixed martial arts. In between one of our segments I had the opportunity to meet Rob Hewitt in person for the first time. I thanked him for the opportunity he has given me and promised that I would continue to do everything I can to keep the work coming.

After the pre-show Michelle and I made our way to the red carpet. This again, was a first for both of us. We rubbed elbows with Jens Pulver, Tracy Lee, and numerous other MMA celebrities. Walking the red carpet was pretty crazy. There were handlers, people leading you around and numerous photographers (think 30 plus) snapping multiple pictures (think 10 each). It was a cool thing to be able to cross off the bucket list. I know my wife put a ton of time into her wardrobe and looking like a fabulous superstar and she deserved to be on the red carpet. I’m glad we could do that for her. And for the record she was the hottest person there.

After the red carpet we made our way up to the VIP pre party. Man, it was packed. We tried to make our way through all the humanity, past the Kenny Florians and such. We ran into the Akrens again and stopped and had a drink and chatted it up. We also ran into the unmistakable Chumlee from Pawn Stars fame. I asked if he was a big fan of the sport and he said he follows it and likes it but his only obsession are Air Jordan kicks.

I also bumped in to my good buddy Stitch Duran. It’s always great to see him. He is such a legend and icon in the sport and the fact that we talk and interact on such a friendly basis is something that really means a great deal to me. He said when he saw my name on the list that he knew this was going to be a big event, which I take as a huge compliment. We crossed paths once we got into the venue as well and talked for a few minutes. Always, always great seeing Stitch.

After a drink (literally one) we made our way down to the entrance and to our seats for the awards show. The venue was so beautiful and the show Fighters Only put on was amazing. It offered everything you would want or expect in an awards show on the highest level. We had great seats ran into a number of great people and enjoyed the award presentations and the entertainment of the evening. Brain Stann did a fantastic job as the host as did comedian Adam Hunter as a main writer of the show. There were a few skits that played throughout the night that were hilarious. A parody of “What Does the Fox Say?” called “What Does the Wand Say?” was flat out hilarious. Another parody featuring Mark Munoz as the (Filipino) Wrecking Ball was equally as funny. In other entertainment we got to see a sneak peek of Rock of Ages, one of the hottest shows in Vegas right now. They were fantastic. Also we watched the amazing artist from Panda!, a martial arts performing act here in Vegas, perform. There were a number of celebrities in attendance and presenting including Gene Simmons, Mario Lopez, and Terrell Owens among others. The show went off without a hitch and we left extremely happy. It was such an honor to get an invite and be present for such a great night in MMA.

After the show I met Bryan Callen and we talked about working on a few things in the near future. None of which I am going to share with you now though. We briefly hit the after party at TAO in the Venetian until I realized how damn old I am and decided to call it a day and go get some much needed shut eye. We spent the rest of our time in Vegas just shopping, taking in the sights and sounds. (Sounds other than that of people on the street whistling and flicking the paper of naked chicks and strip clubs attempting to get your attention and business at said strip club) We took in a few shows and kept the rest of the trip non MMA…somehow. After all, this trip was all about the celebration of the amazing year our sport had not about working. Wow, did I just say that? I guess there is a first time for everything.