‘Ottawa’ A Hot Night in O-Town as UFC Rolls Through
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise announced in April that it was bringing its pit bull-and-pony show to Ottawa for the first time, tickets sold out faster than a spinning back-kick to the head, as mixed martial arts aficionados from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and environs duked it out online for seats.
And while a great many among the 10,490 at TD Place Arena rated Saturday night’s (and early Sunday morning’s) UFC Fight Night a grand success, it was certainly not without some punishing moments for spectators, as events both in and out of the ring ignited resounding flurries of complaint.
Chief among those was the stifling heat in the arena, which drove numerous onlookers, especially those in the nosebleed sections (if such an intimate venue can be said to have such a thing), to the outer concourse, where open doors allowed some cooler night air in while the pugilistic goings-on could still be monitored on video screens at the concession stands. On a positive note, the fact that the old arena’s new air-conditioning system was still only 60 per cent installed did allow for fewer than expected complaints about the cost of refreshments — small bottles of water lightened wallets by $4.25. It is, after all, so difficult to keep up one’s righteous indignation and dander while simultaneously dying of heatstroke and thirst.
“I was at UFC 199 in Los Angeles two weeks ago — Los Angeles! — and it was so much better than this,” said diehard fan Sundeep Chauhan, who brought two friends, first-timers to UFC, with him Saturday night, and spent much of the evening apologizing to them for their discomfort. “This sucks.”
“Everything about tonight is great,” added Montreal fan Jean Trudel, “except the heat. It’s unacceptable for the fans and the fighters.”
Inside the Octagon, meanwhile, the night’s main event, a five-round tilt between Montreal’s Rory “Red King” MacDonald and American Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, two top-ranked welterweights, was a display of such technically brilliant defence that fans rained choruses of boos on the fighters.
“MacDonald,” said Trudel, “is the New Jersey Devils of the UFC,” referring to hockey’s historically least explosive team. “He’s boring to watch.”
Another fan was among the many who were far less diplomatic.
“Let’s go, you pussies,” he shouted in frustration as the fighters circled one another for the first four rounds like a couple of declawed alley cats. “Jesus! I paid two hundred bucks for this!”
(After the match, the end of which many disillusioned spectators missed as they hastened to the exits, Thompson remarked “I realized this was going to be a chess match,” perhaps recalling 1975’s “Massacre in Moscow,” when 22-year-old grandmaster Garry Kasparov brilliantly unseated reigning chess champ Anatoly Karpov without spilling a drop of his, or his opponent’s, blood.)
“The last fight was kind of a stinker,” said Dave Karrel, who drove from Toronto with his girlfriend, Ivana Dizdar, for the show. “It was a technically impressive fight that was boring to watch. It was two really good fighters taking away each other’s weapons, but it’s frustrating watching someone not be able to pull the trigger.”
“It was like watching two fighters train,” added Dizdar.
For those not dissuaded by the room’s sultriness or the occasional Bouts of Seeming Listlessness, though, Saturday’s Fight Night was a raucous, almost-seven-hour blood- and sweat-stained tableau of testosterone and force, amplified by the cauliflower ear-splitting anthems announcing competitors’ arrivals with bass-heavy braggadocio and lyrics suitable for the occasion: Rihanna’s This Is What You Came For; Future’s Last Breath, from the Creed movie; and Motley Crue’s Kickstart My Heart, for example. Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov boldly appropriated the iconic Rocky boxing anthem, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, for his entrance.
Almost every match, meanwhile, featured a Canadian fighter — most from Quebec — who were automatic crowd favourites, with familiar chants of “Olé, Olé” (or, in the case of Montreal’s Patrick Côté, whose match against New Mexico’s Donald Cerrone was the evening’s bloody highlight, “Côté, Côté …”) filling the arena.
The fighters — each with their name printed on their shorts, possibly a vestige from their days as youngsters at summer-camp — appeared oddly convivial with one another. Hailstorms of kicks and punches often concluded with a slight high-five or nodded acknowledgment, as if to say “Hey, nice job.” The bloodier the match, it seemed, the friendlier the bond.
Shouts from the crowd ranged from the tepid — “Let’s go, (insert name here),” “Touch him up!” and “Come on, out there,” for example — to the extreme — “Break his f—ing jaw!”
Some of the audience’s largest cheers, though, were aimed at the referees for breaking up torpid clinches, while the loudest ones came almost reflexively as fighters landed debilitating blows, such as middleweight Krzysztof Jotko’s left cross, which he afterwards said connected “perfectly” with Tamdan “The Barn Cat” McCrory’s head, leaving the latter resembling a goldfish in its near-motionless death throes. In perhaps the night’s most exciting bout, the crowd roared its approval as U.S. light-heavyweight Sean “The Real O.C.” O’Connell, battered and bloodied during a slugfest with Montreal’s Steve Bossé, wandered the ring like someone who recently had or was about to step in front of a train.
Following each match, with the loser unceremoniously vanquished from the ring, the winner was interviewed, with predictably banal results. “Everything happens for a reason,” reasoned Joanne Calderwood after dispatching flyweight Valérie Létourneau, “and I just proved it.”
Bantamweight Joe Soto, meanwhile, reminded fans to “Keep fighting and believe in yourself, and you can do anything you want.”
Throughout the night, the crowd, largely men but with a surprisingly high number out with their wives or girlfriends for a date night, was never at a loss for something to watch. There were the actual fights, of course, but also replays and tributes on five massive screens hanging in the arena’s corners and directly above the Octagon.
Numerous officials, including men in black business suits wearing surgical gloves, like Wall Street proctologists, went about their curious business, while the ever-popular and scantily-clad Octagon Girls, Chrissy Blair and Vanessa Hanson, took turns circumnavigating the ring while holding large signs announcing the next round number, each 30-second excursion an opportunity to smile, wave and blow kisses to the crowd while ignoring the catcalls that fans presumably NOT on date nights returned. Between sojourns, the two sat disinterestedly on ringside chairs, checking their smart phones mostly, but occasionally chatting with each other or adjusting their hair or halter tops.
Other fans mobbed a pair of merchandise booths on the concourse, with ball caps and Ottawa-themed UFC T-shirts, $35 for the latter, flying off the racks. About 10 fans shelled out $600 each for a replica UFC championship belt.
“I love UFC,” said Ottawa fan Mike Kim, wearing a similar belt he bought in Las Vegas for $400 U.S. “The atmosphere, the fans.
“This is a 10 out of 10 in terms of being happy.”