BOSTON — The UFC's first trip to Boston played pretty much to script: Fans were boozy, violent, excellent; the sound system blasted House of Pain and Dropkick Murphys; and James Toney's reputation as the fat Fool of boxing remained intact, even if his head did not.
Before the event (No. 118, if you're counting), the narrow streets outside the Garden teemed with scallywags. A cauliflower-eared Brazilian talked trash in front of the Bobby Orr statue. Fighter groupies — new additions to the UFC fauna — strutted in skin-tight outfits and stilettos. A fat kid with a nuanced grasp of simile sported a t-shirt that said: "I love fighting like a fat kid loves cake." Clearly, it was going to be a heavy night.
As I settled into press row, I couldn't help but reflect upon my recent dealings with the UFC public relations machine, which seems to grow by the day, an indication both of the UFC's unruly expansion and — for a company trafficking in sanctioned brutality — its incredibly thin skin. Things had not gone well. The flacks disapproved of my scribbling and, at one point, suggested I focus more on the action in the cage and less on celebrities tugging pud at urinals. It was apparently deemed gratuitous. I was told I'd made rookie mistakes. I was told, in other words, to get in line. As a pre-condition for granting credentials, an infinitely more accommodating flack nevertheless asked what I "hope[d] to accomplish at UFC 118."
But let us not dwell on such unseemly matters. Let us instead focus on how disgustingly obese James Toney was Saturday night. No wonder he was so secretive about training sessions. During the undercard, Toney had been up on the big screen jabbering incoherently: "Rah bra shlama rama HEAT rah brablah FIRE shlamarama glamarama LEFT HOOK." He didn't look too bad with a shirt on. But when he finally stripped down and entered the cage, he looked like a rare black manatee who had paddled in from the harbor.
If, over the last nine months, the boxer had trained to defend even one more takedown than the number of cheeseburgers he seemingly stuffed in his gob, he might have made the night more interesting. As it was, he didn't get to throw a single punch before Randy Couture grabbed his ankle and, in slow-motion, dragged him to the mat. Hitting a "low single" is one of the more insulting occurrences in grappling, the rough equivalent of winning a chess game in four moves. Couture soon had the manatee in an arm triangle. Fat Toney looked so lost on the ground that he didn't even know how to tap out properly.
Sitting directly behind me were several rows of UFC and WEC fighters rooting loudly for Couture, for MMA over boxing, as was the entire arena. Most UFC fights feature athletes who cross-train to close yawning skill gaps in different areas. It's only when a striker who knows zip about grappling is tossed to the lions that you witness the brute discrepancy between MMA and other tough-guy disciplines. Toney vs. Couture was likely the most-watched boxing vs. MMA fight in history. For almost two decades, the outcome of such a contest has been obvious, but occasionally we need a reminder. Down goes the pugilist and his side check kick defense.
After the fight, James Toney offered a few smart words on courage: "Anybody else in boxing ... wouldn't have done what I done because they ain't got the heart or the balls that I do. You know what I'm saying? My balls. ... I got big walnuts. Not little nuts."
In other flack-approved action coverage, Frankie Edgar outquicked and outpointed B.J. Penn to remain the "undisputed" UFC lightweight champion "of the world." Gray Maynard avoided the punches of hometown hero Kenny Florian and tackled him a couple times to win a decision. Nate Diaz turned Marcus Davis into E.T. after punching him many times in the eye and choking him unconscious. Joe Lauzon, another local favorite, threw his opponent to the ground and beat him badly. A dude named Soto beat a dude from England. And another dude from England lost to a dude from Minnesota who hugged him a lot. You can read about all the exciting results on websites like Yahoo! and UFC.com!!
In non-flack-approved action, a terrifying donnybrook among fat men erupted in the upper deck before the event started. Bodies went flying. The wife of a pro fighter sitting near me gasped in horror. One fat man almost plummeted from the loge to great injury or death. At least two other crowd scuffles broke out later. Each time, the pros behind me gawked like regular fans. Despite having an armada of cops on hand, the Garden security staff seemed ill-equipped to handle the raw New England aggression incited by MMA. In fact, one sleeping security guard allowed an irate fan to storm up to the octagon and berate Marcus Davis for shaming his Irish brethren. Dana White always says his fighters are accessible to fans ...
As the UFC pummels inexorably, and perhaps dangerously, into cultural territory once charted only by professional wrestling, we leave Shaquille O'Neal romping through the Garden in a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt mere days after conquering Harvard Yard with charm. We say goodbye to a delirious Glen Davis and his faux UFC belt and to an aloof Tom Brady in a designer black cap. We say farewell to the two buxom lasses handling MMA's first t-shirt air cannon (perhaps a suggestion, along with UFC's recent hiring of a former NBA employee to help with expansion into Asia, of where the sport is going).
And we close with following observation. In the information packet given to each reporter before the fights, there was a glossy reproduction of a recent paean to White in the Boston Globe magazine. We've all read this same story so many times, and in every one White seems to grow exponentially richer. The UFC president now has two Ferraris gathering dust from disuse. He thinks nothing of losing $500,000 in an hour at a blackjack table. He pays $2,500 a month in nuisance fees to maintain a huge water slide in his backyard for his kids. On and on go the details of White's happy excess. I dunno. Seems gratuitous.
Luke O'Brien is a writer in Washington, D.C. He's written for Details, Washington Post Magazine, Boston Magazine, SI.com, and other publications.
Photos via Cagewriter