Let me start out by saying that UFC 96 was my first MMA event I've ever attended. Being from Pennsylvania (the law-makers finally did something right and sanctioned it recently) and not making a lot of money, the four hour drive to Columbus would be the closest I would get. Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy the full experience of the weekend (the Arnolds/Weigh-ins) because my job prevented me from leaving until Saturday.
My friend and I arrived in Columbus around 4:30 p.m. and the arena was easy to find, parking wasn't a problem or outrageously expensive ($10).
After the four-hour trek, we figured we would get a bite to eat and a couple drinks before the fight. We found an establishment called Brothers just up the way from where we parked. The food didn't look bad, the service was good considering how busy the place was and the drinks were reasonably priced. The funny thing about Brothers was I've never been in a bar in which 95% of the patrons could probably kick my ass. Usually, the ratio is a little closer to 50%.
Around 6:45 we made our way to the Nationwide Arena. The line to get in was fairly long but from when the gates opened, getting in wasn't a problem. We took a walk around the arena and it was really nice. I saw why other arenas built afterward were modeled after Nationwide. Since I was still hungry, I sampled a hot sausage and fry basket for $8.75. The food was good and the staff at the arena were friendly and courteous. The beers they had on sale were predominately Anheuser Busch products (go figure). A 24 ounce can of Budweiser/Bud Light were going for $10. I'm not sure where that price compares to others but at PNC Park I can get a 16 oz draft for $6.75. If you stay past the 7th inning to watch the Pirates, they should be free.
The evening kicked off with a lightweight bout between Aaron Riley and Shane Nelson. We took our seats just as the fight was brought to a controversial early stoppage by referee Rick Fike. Check that, horrible early stoppage as Riley pulled guard after taking two rights from Nelson. So the event got off to a dubious start. The next match that Fike referreed, which one escapes me at the moment, he received a heavy dose of boos from the Columbus crowd.
Up next was Brandon Vera vs. Mike Patt, with Vera likely needing to win to stay in the UFC. What amazed me about this fight was the volume of Vera's leg kicks. Hearing them crack like a whip from the upper bowl is a lot different than hearing them on television. Patt was very clearly over matched in this contest.
Tim Boetsch vs. Jason Brillz was next on the card. Boetsch got the better of Brillz in the the first round. Rounds two and three, Brillz took him down and wore him out for the unanimous decision.
The last two fights of the undercard saw Kendall Grove keep his job in the UFC with a straight right hand, followed up by elbows against Jason Day. Tamden McCrory beat an over matched Ryan Madigan with a first round TKO.
There is a little lull in the action but before the main card starts the UFC plays a highlight reel to the tune of "Teenage Wasteland" that got the crowd fired up. The highlight still gives me chills.
Off we go to the main card. During the opening crowd shots, there was a very attractive girl who was well-endowed jumping up and down shown on the big screens. This got one of the biggest crowd reactions of the evening.
Gray Maynard and Jim Miller open up the televised portion of the card. Basically, Miller couldn't take him down and Maynard outpointed him on the feet.
However, during the second round, a guy two rows in front of me fires up a joint. Hell, I went to a fight and a Tom Petty concert broke out. He was not too shy about the doobie either. He blew the smoke everywhere and our whole section reeked of pot. Some people laughed, some wanted more of the smoke, others looked disgusted. But, no one said anything and Cheech stayed there the whole fight. Ballsy or stupid, you be the judge.
After the Maynard fight, Brock Lesnar who was sitting in a box about 100-200 feet or so to my right. He stepped out and gave a wave to the crowd but only a few people in my section saw him. Good lord was he huge.
Anyways, the Matt Hamill/Mark Munoz fight was next. Hamill came out to "Snoopy Hang on" or whatever it's called. Everyone was chanting O-H-I-O. Being a Steeler fan and a Pennsylvanian, I would rather lose a finger than take part in this chant. I take solace in that the Steelers always slap around the Browns and Bengals.
So the fight starts out as a feeling out process but once Hamill figured him out he landed a massive head kick that knocked Munoz cold. Two meaningless Hamill punches later the ref steps in.
What they didn't show you on the pay-per-view broadcast, was Munoz was down for about 10 minutes. The EMT's were in the ring with the stretcher and everything else. Thankfully, Munoz left the Octagon under his own power with a neck brace.
The next fight beween Pete Sell and Matt Brown also drew the ire of everyone in the arena. Brown starts out quickly and has Sell in big trouble. Yves Lavigne looked like he was going to put a stop to it. Nope, so Sell just catches more of a beating. Brown had his hands raised in disbelief as Sell was out on his feet. Brown just pushed and punched him two more times before Lavigne finally stepped in. Most of the crowd around me basically said, "WTF?" The fight should've been stopped way earlier than that.
Shane Carwin proved one thing in his fight with Gabe Gonzaga; he has extrodinary power. Even though Gonzaga's hand were down after the clinch (bad idea), Carwin knocked him cold with a straight right without stepping into it.
The main event was a closer than expected fight with Rampage Jackson picking up the decision. The crowd, at least in my section, was split between the two. Cheech, from earlier, stood up in his messed mind state and screamed "Dean of Fucking Mean" then almost fell over.
The heat that the crowd gave Rashad after the fight was astounding. By far, the loudest crowd heat. Rick Fike's awesome refereeing also drew the ire of the Columbus crowd. Rampage was a big favorite with the crowd as well as Hamill. The girl jumping up and down in the beginning was also a favorite.
Getting out of the arena wasn't too bad, all things considering. From the end of the fight till we were out of Columbus took about 45 minutes or so.
Now on to what I didn't like:
1. The soundsystem. At least where we were at the bass was absolutely overpowering. I thought I was at a concert as opposed to an evening at the fights. On top of that, we couldn't hear the post-fight interviews.
2. Merchandising. I was looking for some stuff to buy of my favorite fighters and such in the arena and I could not find any. The only things I saw were shirts that just said UFC or UFC 96 shirts. I don't understand why they aren't promoting the individual fighters a lot more. This would be like shopping at your favorite pro team's arena and not being able to get jerseys of your favorite players.All in all it was a good trip and a good show. I was unable to enjoy the whole weekend's festivities but it was a good experience. Now that MMA is finally sanctioned in Pennsylvania, I'll be able to check out some smaller shows.