I’ve gotten to cover some pretty cool events in my former career. One of my favorites was when the Ultimate Fighting Championship came to Houston in 2007.
I bring this up because the UFC is returning to Houston this weekend, and the Houston Chronicle hired me to cover it. I’m quite excited.
The UFC’s first trip to Houston turned out to be quite eventful for me, as you will see in this blog post from April 8, 2007. Cuddles is a diehard UFC fan, so I managed to get us both press passes.
Here’s what happened next…
Making friends with the UFC
I had been looking forward to this weekend for a long time. Not only was Cuddles was making a visit to Houston, but I also scored us some press passes for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Houston on Saturday.
I had never seen a UFC event in person, so I figured it would be a pretty cool experience.
I decided the best way to approach covering the event (and feel as though I actually put the passes to good use), was to write a story of the history of the sport for Saturday’s paper and a column about the experience for Monday.
The UFC media relations lady was real helpful and scheduled me to have a one-on-one phone interview with the president of the UFC, Dana White, on Thursday morning. Yes, I had to wake up early and drive to the island for the 11 a.m. interview (I always forget what the sun actually looks like in the east part of the sky), but it was worth it to get that kind of access.
<Editor’s Note: Obviously, this was pre-child. Now, I’d long to wake up that late, though I do still find time to take naps nowadays.>
White turned out to be an awesome interview. Basically, he and a few business partners bought the UFC when it was on the verge of collapse in 2001 for $2 million. Now the company is making millions and becoming a hugely popular sport.
The neat part is, you can tell he’s not in it just for the money. The guy legitimately loves the sport and I think that passion is certainly carrying over into its marketing success.
I interviewed him for 20 minutes and afterward, said he looked forward to meeting me at the event. Needless to say, Cuddles was pretty pumped that the president of UFC wanted to meet us.
Before the Astros game on Friday, we went to the UFC weigh-in. Inside the exclusive media tent, we got a chance to meet a few of the fighters and White. Normally you aren’t allowed to get pictures taken with athletes if you are a member of the press. But the UFC is such a relaxed atmosphere they didn’t care at all. In fact, White even posed with us for some pics. Cool stuff.
<EN: Dana White might be the best executive in all of sports. This guy gets it from the business side, to interacting with fans. I continue to be impressed with him.>
I wrote my story and I felt like it turned out pretty good: Group turns UFC into worldwide phenomenon. I did pull a big mistake though, misspelling the names of the Fertitta brothers. Nothing bothers me more than when I misspell someone’s name…
<EN: Four years later, I’m still pissed about that.>
When we got our passes on Saturday, we went up to the media room in the Toyota Center to get some food (I must have gained about five pounds this weekend). They were also issuing out press packets in the media room, where I was surprised to see my story as one of the handouts available. I probably would have been really excited about that, had I not been so embarrassed for misspelling those guys names.
<EN: Yup, still pissed.>
The event itself was awesome. Our press seats were about eight feet from the Octagon and the atmosphere was awesome. Eight of the nine fights were good, although the most anticipated matchup of the night was a total bust.
By this point, I’ve already determined I’m going to write a column about how UFC is indeed about to really become a part of mainstream sports. Seeing it in person, it’s like the way boxing used to be in the 80s before it started to become corrupt. The fighters are there more for the love of the sport than the money, and that makes it a treat for the fans.
We went back upstairs for the post-fight media session, which was a unique experience by itself. After the press conference, I decided I wanted to thank White once again for the help he and the rest of the UFC media relations staff had been for us this week.
I stood off to the side while he was doing an interview with an internet reporter. One of the PR people asked who I wanted to talk to.
“I just wanted to say a quick word to Dana,” I said.
“Well he’s going to have to leave in a hurry,” he replied, “because he has a plane to catch.”
“That’s OK, it will only take a minute.”
I think it kind of caught him off guard that I didn’t just leave at that point. He gave a weird kind of look to one of the other PR girls, who slowly made he way over to where I was standing.
I noticed her look down at my press pass to see exactly who I was, figuring she was about to just tell me that White couldn’t talk to me because he had to leave. After all, I’m not a writer from Sports Illustrated or anything…
Then she raised her eyebrows after reading my pass.
“Oh, you’re Joshua Buckley,” she said with a surprised tone. Suddenly her attitude towards me was completely different. “We’re really glad you could make it tonight. That was a great story you wrote for today’s paper.”
Certainly not the reaction I was expecting at that point.
She then proceeds to interrupt the interview White is doing, to tell him that “Joshua from Galveston” wanted to talk with him real quick. He immediately walks over to shake my hand and thanked me for the “great story.”
Nothing’s better for the old confidence than having people you’ve never met recognize who you are because of a story you’ve written. This was clearly the highlight of my night.
I must say, that the whole experience was such a blast, I am definitely going to try and attend more UFC events in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll apply for a media job with the UFC somewhere down the line.
I’m headed up to Houston today for another one-on-one interview with Dana White. This time, I am doing a story for the Chronicle on how the sport has grown since 2007 and what future plans White has for it.
I am certain he will not remember who I am. That’s OK. It’s still going to be a lot of fun.
And maybe I can give Dana my resume at some point…
• Yeh-Peu-Dah and I saw “Moneyball” on Monday. It was a pretty enjoyable movie. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were fantastic, and they did a solid job mixing actual footage with the movie.
What didn’t I like about the movie? They hardly mentioned the fact that the Big 3 — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito — were the heart of that A’s squad.
I’ve heard those three weren’t mentioned in the book, so I guess that’s why they weren’t in the movie. But there’s a reason Billy Beane hasn’t won much without that trio on the pitching staff.
• Alabama won, the Bears won and the Texans won. Yet the thing I was most excited about this past weekend was Boogie finally taking a dump in the potty. Yup, I’m a parent.
Bear Down and Keep the Faith!