Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of being granted media credentials for my very first major mixed martial arts event, last Saturday night’s World Series Of Fighting 3. The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino played host for the evening, including the weigh in the prior night at Vinyl, a smaller live music venue. The event was headlined by a rematch that ring announcer Tim Hughes dubbed as “seven years in the making”. Jon Fitch, making his WSOF debut, took on Josh “The Peoples Warrior” Burkman, who was 7-1 going into this bout w/ Fitch. The event also featured some recognizable names such as Dan “The Upgrade” Lauzon, John “Guns” Gunderson, Jacob “Feelgood” Volkmann and Lyle “Fancy Pants” Beerbohm, as well as an eyebrow-raising undefeated prospect by the name of Justin Gaethje. These are my observations and opinions of how the night went for me, which includes but is not limited to: the bouts on the card, the crowd and the overall atmosphere of the entire event.
When I first arrived at the venue, I was unsure where press row was until I ran into a former colleague who then ushered me to the two rows of tables near the cage. I found that there was assigned seating and therefore I began to search for my name, which I was displeased to find was in the middle of the second row. This being my first major show and feeling humbly satisfied with simply being here under these circumstances, I figured I’d let that go. Even though I felt that sitting there would be problematic when having to leave during the fights for whatever reason, I made sure I had everything I needed with me so I wouldn’t have leave at all. And that included wolfing down a Power Bar and taking a quick trip to the little girl’s room before taking my seat for the night.
Once I did take my seat, I was pleasantly surprised to see Joe Lauzon helping his younger brother Dan warm up in the WSOF “decagon” before the event officially started. The decagon, by the way, proudly showcased one of their sponsors of the night, Pretorian (the most recent sponsor banned from the UFC for what was recently explained as owing ZUFFA money, interesting). Even after the personal conflicts between the two brothers in the past, it’s certainly refreshing to see the strength of their bond as brothers to put all that behind them. Using that as a segue, my favorite bout of the night was Dan Lauzon vs. John Gunderson. It was part of the preliminary fights that were available online and was not on the NBC Sports Network broadcast. Lauzon put on an excellent performance in totally nullifying Gunderson entirely. I strongly believe that Lauzon has turned over a new leaf, not only in his life but also his training and if last Saturdays exhibition against Gunderson was anything else besides a shining example of this, it was that Lauzon’s skills have advanced greatly. I’m certainly not implying that Gunderson is an elite-level opponent, but he’s extremely experienced and is not the kind of fighter who will just lie down and accept defeat. It was a stern test for “The Upgrade” and if nothing else, a solid step up the lightweight ladder.
Although that bout went the distance, along with six other fights of a nine-bout card, it was the most exciting fight of the night of that group. The fight went to the ground a few times but spent the majority of the time on the feet, where Lauzon displayed an impressive array or strikes to absolutely neutralize any offense Gunderson attempted to unleash. Lauzon showed patience and a maturity rarely seen in young talent. WSOF’s lightweight division is arguably its most stacked division and Lauzon is slowly but surely closing in on the promotion’s top spot.
The event, overall, was great, even with the expected spattering of boos and ignorant “fans” who felt the need to yell out instructions to the professionals in the decagon. Everything from “stand them up!” to “punch him in the face!” and even a few “knock him out!” chants blasted from the mouths of the same intoxicated, impatient and uneducated onlookers. The crowd began to file in nicely around the second bout of the night and a few fighters, who were either local or had their entourage accompany them to the event, had a hefty serving of support from the crowd. Unfortunately, this support, who sat directly behind me, came in the form of some mid forty-ish Affliction wearing men and their blonde wives who were drinking heavily whilst yelling at such a high pitch, I would liken it to an ambulance’s siren. As if to further aggravate matters, they were cheering for the undefeated prospect I previously mentioned Justin Gaethje, whose bout fell two minutes short of the fifteen minute time limit.
Gaethje put on an entertaining bout, showing he has heart in facing adversity and finishing his opponent, Brian Cobb, in the third round. From bell to bell, and even during the rest period, this group behind me continued to spew out cheers to the point where I actually had to cover my ears from time to time. I literally felt like turning and saying “you’re distracting him with your yelling. You’re going to make him lose!” And lose he almost did as Cobb finished round one on Gaethje’s back landing shots to the side of his head. I might have made some impolite remarks if not for one gentleman from the group flattering me in complementing my brand spanking new “Thrilla in Manila” Roots of Fight shirt. He said he was surprised that a “young’un” would know about that history bout.
As I mentioned before, out of the nine bouts on the card, six went to the judges. With the exception of the Jacob Volkmann vs. Lyle Beerbohm fight, most of those six bouts were quite entertaining. Both Volkmann and Beerbohm seemed more interested in not losing the fight rather than actually trying to win it. The referees for the night did a great job waiting as long as they could to stand fights up if there is a lull in action on the ground. Of course referee Steve Mazzagatti made his presence known in the main event when he failed to notice that Jon Fitch was unconscious from the guillotine choke Josh Burkman slapped on him. Burkman literally had to let go of the move because Mazzagatti’s mind was elsewhere instead of it being on the match he was refereeing; probably trying to think of a better slogan than “Now bring it on c’mon!”
The feeling I got at the event was that of an organized gathering. There were a few issues with the fighter’s entrance music coming on at the wrong times and even some fighters reaching the decagon to music that sounded like the background music that plays in between rounds. This is the third WSOF event and it seemed as if things went rather smoothly. I certainly enjoyed my time there as well as the fights themselves and although the crowd was very passionate, they were also quite uneducated in the intricacies of the sport. That seems to be the norm with MMA events.
President Ray Sefo and company seemed to have gotten down the best formula possible for them to run the event with as much professionalism as possible and with most of the errors and missteps of their previous events ironed out. The announcement was made that their next event will be held at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. I have been to that arena and it’s quite a leap from the three previous event venues however, if the powers that be feel that an arena of that size, about 9,000 people capacity for an event like this, is the way to go for their fourth event, then they’re moving in the right direction.