UFC Fanboy: Insanity Hits Madison Square Garden

By Matt Cole;

The long awaited, highly anticipated, arrival of the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship is finally here! After declaring victory in their 20 year battle to get the sport of Mixed Martial Arts legalized in New York State, the largest and most popular promotion in the business held their first pre-fight event Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden Theater, in the form of a press conference…. and it was beyond crazy. Artvoice had the privilege of being in attendance.
unnamed (7)You see, with the UFC comes their fans. To their rabid fanatical cult following of diehards from all continents – they’re big in Antarctica, we checked – who will travel anywhere on Earth for a UFC event, to them, the first ever UFC fight at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, November 12, is equivalent to the Super Bowl, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the World Series all being held in the same place at the same time.
We met people who had travelled in for this event from Poland, Australia, England, Japan, and Mexico, and this was for a press conference. But, mostly it was the New Yorkers. Ohhhh the New Yorkers.
Hundreds of people crowded around a metal gate guarding a side entrance. All of them chanting, pushing, and clamoring for a glimpse of one the their favorite fighters coming in or out or the building. Several even so bold, or just elated, as to climb over the gate for a better look, just to be quickly turn away by New York’s Finest. In the world we live in today, full of riots, and protests, and violence, and this or that life matters more, this was something good. This was something needed. “This is New York, baby” said a police office posing for a picture with tourists and fans, “We do this every day” finished his partner. It was a chance for the greatest city in the world to show it’s professionalism. It was a chance for the UFC to show it’s power and value to the fans of New York State and society alike. To serve as a pressure release valve if you will, and offer us all a break from life.
You see, to the UFC everything is about the fans. Everything. It’s a mantra endlessly repeated by UFC President Dana White which has helped create the culture that has driven the company’s success to a point where they are clipping at the heels of the “Big 4” mainstream sports in North America. This was made evident by the company’s recent $4.2 billion sale. Unlike other sports, their fans do not just attend the events. They attend the press conferences, the open workouts, the after parties, they show up randomly at private gyms where the top fighters train, and are often invited in and shown around – a close friend and his fiancé literally flew to Ireland recently on the ultimate fanboy trip to try to “crash” 145b champ and megastar Connor McGregor’s Straight Blast Gym and they were greeted with open arms, given a tour, t-shirts, and made to feel like family – they wait for fighters in hotel lobbies, and even pay thousands of dollars extra to experience the backstage atmosphere with the fighters. The company has, on rare occasion, even accommodated a few requests to allow a fan to walk a fighter to the ring. Everything is about the fans.
Significant effort was made by Artvoice to try to get an interview with the woman’s 115 pound champion, Joanna Jedrzedczyk [Yan-jay-check], but we were told that would not be possible as they even had to bump Ariel Helwani – 6 time MMA Journalist of the Year – from her schedule. However as anyone else who has managed to keep hope alive, after living to see 6 feet of snow in a single day and watch their team go 16 years without seeing the playoffs knows, “impossible” just means find another way. I happen to have a phone number and a piece of information that even the great and powerful Ariel Helwani – who was extremely gracious enough to promise to read this article and offer his feedback – did not know. After all else failed, I was forced to use this information like my nuclear option. Jedrzedczyk’s coach, UFC veteran and former 145lb champion Mike Brown, is a coffee freak. So, after continued negotiations – meaning I begged and pleaded, then lit his phone up like the White House Christmas tree on December 24th (sorry Mike) – the wear down technique was successful, they agreed to squeeze me in briefly. The 6 time Muay Thai World Champion and undefeated reigning defending UFC Woman’s World Champion, on one of the biggest days in company history, would meet me at Starbucks.
I was to meet Brown in their hotel lobby near Madison Square Garden. I passed paparazzi and autograph seekers into the lobby, inside I got a few looks from someone I’m sure was corporate security, and an eventual nod from a UFC credentialed employee, I tried to be cool as I saw Dillon Danis – Conor Mcgregor’s jiu jitsu coach – and then superstar and former 185lb champion Chris Weidman. I was waiting for the guy who knocked out Urija Faber, the last guy to hold the strap before José Aldo and I couldn’t let my fanboy status show itself.
BROWN: Hey! Thanks for coming. Sorry we didn’t have more time than this. It’s just been crazy.
Artvoice: Hey! No, this is awesome. We finally made it, The Garden. I can’t believe we’re finally here.
Brown: Yeah me either. It’s awesome. Let’s go get some coffee.
Artvoice: What’s it been like so far, the trip, the experience?
BROWN: Well I’m here because she’s supposed to be in camp for this fight. The media commitments have been overwhelming and they’re all big shows. It’s been non stop. So, I’m with her all day long and we train a little bit here and there whenever we can.
Artvoice: Wow. How do you manage that logistically in the middle of Manhattan?
Brown: We meet at 6:30 in the morning to take her for a run. Then it’s UFC stuff all day, they have it all set up for us, one show to the next. She’ll gets little breaks though, an hour here and an hour there, and Marcelo Garcia has a gym here in the city that he’s letting us use. Whenever we get a break we train. It’s non stop until 10 or 11 at night, then up at 6. It’s hard work, but it’s fun though, ya know. It’s fun. I have the greatest job in the world.
Artvoice: And she just switched to your camp right? How did all of that happen?
Brown: Yeah. We had been talking a little bit for the last couple weeks, getting acquainted while she considered it. She hadn’t signed yet to fight here at 205 though, so we didn’t know anything for sure. Then on Friday she called me and said ‘okay, I’ll be there Sunday.’ I had to clear as much of my schedule as I could. I felt bad doing that, but when an undefeated world champion calls and asks you to train her, for the biggest card ever, it’s a big deal.
Artvoice: That’s awesome. Congratulations. Yeah, that’s got to be pretty unusual, right?
Brown: It’s never happened before. A reigning world champion on a multi-fight win streak has never switched camps and coaches. I mean [TJ] Dillashaw did it [when he left Team Alpha Male as champion], but not really because he was just following [his head coach, Duke] Rufus, who had started his own gym. So this is a big deal.
Brown’s very manly no frills looking medium coffee is already 1/2 gone as the barista hands me my double chocolately chip frapaccino with whip cream. I didn’t order the whip cream, but I was about to pay for it.
Brown: Oh cool, here they are. Come on I’ll introduce you.
The undefeated world champ and her nutritionalist approach us with their equally nondescript cups of coffee.
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 Joanna Jedrzedczyk
Jedrzedczyk: Hi.
Artvoice: Hi champ. It’s really nice to meet you.
Jedrzedczyk: Oh, well aren’t you fancy.
Artvoice: What?
Jedrzedczyk: Frapaccino with whip cre

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Joanna Jedrzedczyk
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Frankie Edgar vs Jeremy Stevens – Staredown

am. Aren’t you just fancy.

My confidence grew almost as big as my smile. The more we all laughed though, it occurred to me that maybe a woman, even a very stylish and very pretty one, who beats people unconscious for a living might not mean that as a compliment. Mr. Fancy.
Jedrzedczyk: Actually my favorite is the caramel macchiato, when I can have it. But no whip cream. I’m not as fancy as you.
Artvoice: Well those shoes are pretty fancy. Did you bring those here with you?
– Jedrzedczyk, or JJ as she prefers, is known to be an avid shoe collector and sneakerhead –
JJ: Yes, they are kind of. Do you like them? I bought them here to wear to the press conference.
Artvoice: I love them. I understand you just switched camps and started training with American Top Team[ATT] in Florida? When did this happen?
JJ: Yes. One week ago.
Artvoice: One week? That’s crazy. Where were you before that?
JJ: I was back in Poland. But I’m here now. I consider this my home [ATT].
Artvoice: What made you decide to make such a big move?
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Joanna Jedrzedczyk vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz – staredown


JJ: I want to train here. I want to train with Mike. I want the best possible outcome for my future in the sport. And, I wanted to fight here on this card. There are many Polish people in New York, and I want to do it for the fans.

Brown: Oh hey is that are bus out there? Yeah, they’re waiting for us. We’ve got to get over to The Garden.
-A large blacked out limousine bus is waiting across the street-
JJ: Okay, bye bye.
Artvoice: Thank you champ. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Brown: We’ll see you over there. Enjoy the show.
Walking up to Madison Square Garden for the first time – yes that’s not a typo – for the 6pm press conference, this New Yorker honestly got the chills. Judging by excitement in the air, I would say so did the other 5,000 plus fans some of which had been lined up since 6 o’clock in the morning. “My nephew and I got here at 10 am and there was already a lot of people here. We weren’t missing this for anything” Stephanie S, Brooklyn, told us while waiting “on” line.
Fan jumped over the gate.
The capacity crowd of 5,500 strong drowned out nearly 1/2 of the press conference itself with thunderous cheers, chants of “Olé Olé Olé”, and screaming color commentary. Irish megastar Conor McGregor highlighted the mostly championship lineup and once again stole the show. The current 145lb champion, McGregor, will be facing Eddie Alvarez, the reigning 155lb champion, at the higher weight class, in an attempt to become the first ever 2 division champion. This drew frequent chants of “2 weight world champ!” from the unruly crowd. Frankie Edgar and Chris Weidman, both home town favorites and former world champs alike, drew huge and frequent reactions from the packed crowd.
When the events of Fight Week approach, just under 6 weeks from now, highlighted by the long awaited UFC 205 on Saturday, November 12th, it’s sure to be one for the history books.
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Press conference.

In the words of UFC President Dana White, “This is the UFC, at MSG, in NYC” finally. The hype is real. The world is watching. New York is ready.

Tickets went on sale to the public Friday, September 30th.
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Matt Cole with Ariel Helwani

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