Few moments more exemplify the saying “calm before the storm” than the moments leading up to an MMA event. There’s excitement in the air – to be sure – and a little tenseness felt between old rivalries and anxious newcomers. However, to a casual onlooker the serene and almost lazy attitude of the competitors and coaches seems to be more akin to a yoga convention than an impending battle between nine pairs of warriors.
I arrived in Macau just before the weigh ins for Legend FC 6. The City of Dreams complex is a meandering narrow corridor of a shopping arcade for luxury goods strung between the Hard Rock Hotel and the Grand Hyatt, with a few cavernous entrances looking to swallow you up into rooms full of slot machines and pai gow tables. In Macau casinos, the crowds and bling can be disconcerting, but I’ve been here many times before so I’m on autopilot up to the Grand Hyatt ballroom.
I arrive in time to see them setting up for the weigh ins. It isn’t a fancy affair, just a big billboard and some black satin. Where are all the reporters, I wonder. Macau – even though it is dubbed the Las Vegas of Asia – has the distinction of being part of China and next to Hong Kong, yet separated from it, and the press don’t like to make a trip here on two occasions for one event. However, in this day of instant internet information, Zike from MMA Orient and myself are here to cover it, along with Legend FC’s crack production team who manage to get an edited video out almost simultaneously.
Then I took a peek to see how the preparations were going in the ballroom. There was a massive construction project going on! It’s amazing to see what goes into the construction of a ring, and the sheer number of people it takes to accomplish the job. But at this point, not much was happening. I imagined they’d be working well into the night on this one.
The fighters slowly rambled in, some from last-minute saunas, others as if they were gathering to chat over lunch. There were so many languages being spoken. The Filipinos seemed to be the most animated of the bunch, while the Mongolians camped out cross-legged on the floor in a group. The Aussies and Kiwis spent time catching up with old friends from the past five Legend FC events. The Koreans, Japanese and Chinese also picked their own spots and chilled out waiting for the weigh ins to start.
Everything ran perfectly on time. Each fighter took his place in turn on the scale and posed for the cameras, each one seeming to be more ripped than the other. Koji Ando looked like a sculpture out of rock. Liu Wenbo stunned the onlookers with the astonishing amount of weight he’d lost in the fight camp with Team Quest. And it was Hong Kong’s first close up look at the new shining star of the organization, Jadamba Narantungalag. The light-hearted feel continued throughout the weigh ins, with the usually fiesty Rob Hill surprising the cameras by cracking a grin and giving a thumbs up, which got his opponent Song Unsik to smile as well. Liu Wenbo seemed like he wanted to put his arm around the shoulders of his buddy Sam Brown, so great was his enthusiasm to be there. The only sparks that flew were when Yusuke Kawanago and Wu Chengjie butted heads, both eager to avenge losses at Legend FC 5. After the weigh ins were over, the hired help was called in to clear the space.
That’s Managing Director Mike Haskamp doing the managing. Of the scale. At this point, the production company seemed to be well-ahead of the game. I didn’t even dare step foot in that maze of expensive equipment and rivers of cables. That was the War Room and I was happy to be content far away from it with my smartphone and wifi.
And, before I left for the evening, I checked in on the status of the ring. Well underway!
During mid-morning of the fight day, things started to finally get a little hectic. Security was being coached on the layout and procedures. Staff were being organized into specific duties. From the ballroom to the War Room, production crew were swarming. And the fighters were…
… relaxing. Seriously, every other person involved with the event was scurrying around and making final preparations before the show, but the fighters only had to wait for their fifteen minutes of work. Even commentators Vaughn Anderson and Mike Rehu were scrambling for a dress rehearsal.
They’re not the only ones still sitting around. Lee Yongjae seemed to be getting a manicure and a nice shoulder massage.
Kim Hoon was having a pleasant chat with the doctor about the sunny weather.
Out in the ballroom, the ring was finally set up and the entrance ramp was ready to send warriors into battle. It’s completely lit up, but by this point, I’m starting to feel butterflies in my own stomach looking at the steps. “X” marks the spot.
Here’s the fighter’s first view of what it looks like out there – except without thousand watt bulbs, dry ice and screaming fans.
And for the final decent into glory or agony:
The production crew was in place for the final run through. Announcer Vivek Muhabani and referees Warren Wang and Thomas Fan oversee a bout between two athlete stand-ins while the cameras set their marks.
The ring girls wait patiently for their turn. Tough job, ladies.
After the run through is over, some of the fighters take the opportunity to come try out the ring. Plenty of eyes were on Jadamba. Must be his flashy jogging attire.
In the staging room, things are starting to get active as well. The crescendo of sound from the ballroom speakers blaring entrance music and announcements has ceased, to be replaced by metronome-like slaps to kick pads and a staccato of leather on leather combinations.
It seems like everything is perfectly organized, and ready to go. Hands are wrapped. Gloves are on.