Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dana White: Man of a Thousand Faces

Wow, I cannot believe I never noticed it before, but UFC President Dana White has an uncanny resemblance to Hugo 'Man of a Thousand Faces'. For those unfamiliar with Hugo, he was a popular toy in the '70's that could be transformed into different characters via disguises. Very similar to a Mr. Potato Head, which also seems to fit Dana these days.
Back in 2009 I had a different view of Dana White, that was because of a personal experience I had and witnessed with the man. In November 2009, I was in Las Vegas visiting my friends from MMA Junkie Radio Gorgeous George and Goze Garcia. This just happened to be the week prior to UFC 106. At the time I had no plans to attend the event, I was just planning to watch it with GG and Goze on TV; then it all happened.

Leading up to the event, GG and Goze had planned a couple of prime time night shows. Surprisingly on the Thursday before the Saturday night UFC, they were able to schedule Dana White to appear in studio for an interview. Dana in the meantime had tweeted about his appearance on the show and had also tweeted that he was going to be handing out free tickets to UFC 106 while there.

Suffice it to say the Mandalay Race & Sports Book where the show broadcasts from was packed; nearly 300 people showed up. One to catch a glimpse of Dana, but mainly to get their hands on some free tickets. At the time it was on my bucket list to attend a live UFC in Las Vegas. While I had seen it live in Atlantic City before, the energy of a live event in Vegas is what I wanted to experience; thus I waited outside the studio as well. However, when I saw how many people were there, I never thought I'd get a chance at some tickets; then it happened again!

Amidst the large crowd, I happened to be standing at the right place at just the right time. As I'm standing there wondering, which way Dana is coming from, someone slaps me on the back of my shoulders with their hands and says, "Boy you muthaf****s really came out for these tickets." Yes, to my surprise and luck, Dana came and just happened to make contact with me first before anyone else. Then another stroke of luck happened.

I just happened to be a wearing a MMAJunkie Radio shirt; so I told Dana I was with the show and would escort him into the studio. Dana told everyone to see his security man about the tickets. I immediately told his guy I was taking Dana inside the studio, so can I have my tickets first; he gladly obliged and thus I had four free tickets to UFC 106 in hand as can be seen in this pic I took with Dana outside the studio.

However, that isn't necessarily why Dana White was suddenly Mr. Nice Guy in my books; it was what I witnessed afterwards that gave me a positive opinion of the man. After sitting in the studio for over an hour, taking and answering all questions, he came outside the studio, where all those nearly 300 people had waited in the hopes of taking a picture or getting an autograph. Not only did he oblige, but also told everyone, "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere" and stood there for over two hours and took every pic and signed every autograph.

Mind you this is the President of the UFC two nights before a big event. I'm sure he had things to do, but at the time he realized his fans were his most important commodity. This was six years ago; a lot has changed in that time including in my opinion of Dana White. The man who was the primary reason for saving the UFC and bringing it from obscurity to mainstream, is also the man that is slowly destroying the product he created and not realizing it.

In the last six years the UFC has gone global, signed a major TV deal with Fox and most recently inked a deal with Reebok that would make them the official sportswear of the UFC. In doing so, the brand has grown immensely in popularity and Zuffa, the ownership of the UFC of which White has a 10% piece, is flourishing. However, as the late great Biggie Smalls once said, "Mo money, mo problems."

There have been many issues in the recent past including performance enhancing drugs and legal issues with fighters I can point to, but there are three in the past week alone I want to elaborate on. First was a segment on HBO's Real Sports that discussed domestic violence in sports, primarily MMA. While the main focus of the story centered around the fighter known as 'War Machine', a former UFC veteran, and his infamous brutal attack on his then girlfriend last year, it was the facts pointed out that were most damaging.

They showed an interview White did with Fox Sports last year where he emphatically said, "Domestic violence is one thing the UFC will not tolerate and you will never come back from." Yet, they showed numerous fighters currently on the roster that the UFC has signed after multiple counts of domestic violence on their criminal record. Not a good look to say the least.

In the wake of this, in the same evening, the UFC made what many others and I consider a wrong move in so many ways, when they decided to fire legendary cutman Jacob 'Stitch' Duran. This was done solely because of comments he made about the Reebok deal when asked for his opinion by a reporter. Note, in the interview, Duran never said anything derogatory about the UFC, he just gave his opinion in terms of how the Reebok deal does not benefit him and the other cutmen on the roster. Duran was a UFC employee for 14 years, being one of the firsts hired by White when Zuffa took over the company.

That is why it is so strange and more importantly classless when White was asked live on Fox TV Saturday night about the backlash he has received in the wake of the 'Stitch' Duran firing. His response was, "Stitch Duran and I are not friends, we were work associates; we were never friends." Wow! Poignant and disturbing words from someone who has always preached loyalty and family when it comes to the UFC.

Yet the most disturbing thing of all this past week is regarding the backlash I referenced above. That has come from UFC fans from all over the world who personally questioned Dana along social media fronts, especially twitter, regarding the Duran debacle. White's response was to personally attack each and everyone who reached out to him, even going so far as to belittle some fans and telling others in not so many words, go f**k yourself, we don't need you anyway.

Yes, the same guy who six years ago cared enough about his fans to stand for more than two hours to make sure everyone left happy is now telling them we don't need you. Dana White continues to be the voice of the UFC and it's not only gotten me angry, it has me worried. It seems that every time he opens his mouth now, there's something negative and stupid coming out of it. I keep wondering when Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, primary owners of the UFC, will finally step in and do like most owners in others sports such as baseball and either silence or fire their GM's for such acts?

Till then, I can see Dana White slowly destroying all the strides he's made with this company, including the loyalty he's garnered from hardcore fans such as myself; boycotts have actually been established on-line. Sadly, while he eerily resembles Hugo 'Man of a Thousand Faces', I guess in the end he is more like Mr. Potato Head after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's not what you're doing, it's who you're with

So as I traveled home Sunday from Vegas over 13 hours, which included three flights, two layovers and a delay, I was thinking about the incredible week I just had. It was a foggy blur because of all the things I did and the three hours of sleep I averaged due to the late nights and early mornings; as a matter of fact Sunday, since I had broke night Saturday, I was literally in a daze. Nonetheless one thing was clear; it was only a great week because of the people I was with.

For four years and five gatherings now, I've been trying to convey in words what can only be understood by those who are a part of it. The MMA Junkie Gathering has become more than just a few MMA fans getting together to watch fights. It is now basically an annual family get together with family members from all over the states and world enjoying a week filled with events and surprises all planned by the family patriarch Goze. Of course his brother Gorgeous George gets credit as well, but even he gets surprised by Goze as he was more than once this week with the Mandalay Bay marquee and 2000th show video.

I've been lucky enough to be a part of all five Junkie Gatherings and every year I've been getting there earlier. Two years ago I flew in on Wednesday; the five days flew by so fast it was not enough. So last year I flew in on Tuesday; once again it went by too fast, so I figured this year Monday night should satisfy me. It did, because by the time Saturday night came, I was ready to come home, but the week itself was a blur!

No way to sum up all we did in a few paragraphs, but here goes. Monday night I show up at the studio lounge and to my surprise found a pretty large contingent of Junkies already in the house. Hugs from vets like Gali from Toronto, Blue from North Carolina; Hauie D from Austria and Lackey from San Francisco etc. would have been enough. However, there were already rookies in the house like Gabe from LA, the stand-up comedian who doesn't talk, and no that's not part of his act. LOL... And Billy from Texas who will now be known as 'Eddie Mush' for the crazy long shot parlay he talked a bunch of us into betting on.

So Monday night we went to a Pub on the strip, which supposedly has beers from around the world, but none on their menu. Ask Gabe and Gali, they were just as confused as I was. Tuesday brought more gluttony and debauchery with a trip to Buldogis for eats and Banger Brewery for drinks. Wednesday was awesome with our trip to Bishop Gorman for Ricky Lundell's camp featuring Frank Mir and Travis Browne (pictured above) and then laughs Wednesday night with Adam Hunter and a surprise comic, our very own Bad Mo Jack from Seattle.

Thursday brought more joy and laughter with the 'Silent Library' game at Tough Prints featuring UFC Fighters Lorenz Larkin, Tom Lawlor, Pat Barry and Rose Namajunas. (This pic below was taken outside Tough Prints) Then onto amateur tryouts @ Xtreme Couture and The Beatles 'Love' show with Pat and Rose again along with Tyron Woodley and Dominique Robinson. That night was capped by the hospitality suite @ Mandalay Bay where the star was Deane from Georgia who earned his rookie of the year title by tending bar and doing so much more all night. BTW, I'm not ashamed to say that Goze's surprise speech for GG and his parents about the marquee almost brought me to tears. 

Friday of course was capped by the 2000th show and the appearance of not one, but two current champions in Demetrious Johnson and Joanna J; if you think I was going to try and spell her last name, drink another one. Where's Darius when you need him? Lunch at Texas de Brazil, was followed by the weigh-ins, for those that could get in, then either the Marilyn Manson/Smashing Pumpkins for some and the Joe Rogan show for others; I did the Rogan show.

Of course Saturday we were all together at Twin Peaks for the fights and the after party afterwards at Eye Candy and Franklins Bar @ Delano. Everything you just read is great, but it's the untold stories that make this thing so special. The ones that happen throughout the week that bring the laughter that last for years to come. Last year it was Pancakes, Blue in the closet and The Great Wallenda; sorry but you had to be there to understand.

This years stories will include grilled cheese that taste like "sauerkraut and sadness;" those that were in the car understand how truly funny that was. Another was Goze, Victoria and about eight other Junkies scaring the f**k out of me around 1:30 AM in my room after I had dozed off; let's just say Hal from Chicago and Nick from Vancouver will forever greet me from now own with "Get the f**k outta here!" Then there was Buffalo Blue literally breaking and shutting down the escalator at Planet Hollywood. How do you shut down an escalator?

Those are just a few of the stories that will be remembered from this year's gathering. However, none of it is possible or means anything if it isn't for the people involved. This Junkie family is something special and it keeps growing with more great people, This year's rookie class included the aforementioned Gabe, Billy and Deane, along with other cool peeps such as Lerone from Maryland by way of The Bronx, Rumundo AKA Showtime and Gustavo AKA Henry Cejudo. John Wilkes Boothe and Lady Wilkes Boothe, (thanks for the donuts), Damian AKA Anderson Silva from London and Sam 'The Chef' from Chicago to name but a few.

The vets included the aforementioned along with staples such as Mindra, Duane & Regina from OKC, what an unbelievable gesture with that shirt guy, Spider Rico, Munabear and Ray in ya Face, DJ Zoo and Steve AKA Lex Luther etc. The reappearance of some O.G.'s like The Big Jew and SB Mike along with a couple of surprise last minute appearances by Dick Barrymore & Jennifer Banuelos and John Romero AKA 'Fat Guy in a little coat'; even Playboy/Millionaire 'Devante' showed up at the after party for a minute. I don't know who saw him, but Kindra and I were privy; it was epic!

I'm sorry I could not mention everyone because they are all so worthy and part of what contributes to this thing of ours; this "Cosa Nostra" known as the annual Junkie Gathering. Everyone that is a part of this thing is truly as Lou Rawls once sang, "Groovy People;" Okay, I know I just made another old man reference, but f**k it, I am the resident old man Junkie. What I'm trying to say is that the people are what makes "it what it is" (sorry Goze), special! After four years and five of these I understand now it's not what you're doing, but rather who you're with that counts.

Special thanks to my little brother Goze for the stress he puts himself through to pull this thing off every year. I see it first hand, but we all appreciate it. 

Shout out to Mike AKA Northern Lights for always sacrificing his good time to capture ours through photos and videos. He gets credit for the photos above. 

Finally, thank you to all the fighters who come through to spend time with Junkie Nation, even when Goze asks them to do some crazy sh**; like wear a giant mouse head on your head and come out dancing or get doused all over by Coke and Mentos. The Junkie loyalty and karma they will get in return is huge!

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