Great opportunities presented themselves to me when I got back from my trip to Germany. One of them was snagging the photographer role for an event held in the Financial District. The UFC stands for the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” and can be seen in the same league NASCAR is for racing sports. It includes Mixed Martial Arts, Kickboxing, and other Self-Defense mechanisms. The UFC owns gyms which are dispersed throughout this country. Even though it’s originally from California, it has made its way over to the East Coast. And April 24 happened to be a big day for this industry: The new UFC gym in John Street was celebrating its grand opening!
Now, you might have gathered from previous posts throughout the past 2 years or so that nowhere do I mention any particular experience in this industry. Indeed, aside from redeeming a Groupon at a Martial Arts school in Brooklyn, I’ve never even come in touch with the side of sports. So, about a week after arriving in New York, I got the surprising call that the UFC was looking for a photographer for this particular event. My interest was awakened and my enthusiasm heightened as I arrived at the location in Lower Manhattan. The opening gala was scheduled to go for some solid 4 hours starting at 5:30 PM. A mouth-watering buffet had been built up and boxing sacks were aligned in the back of the gym. The DJ and his helper were mixing the beats and everyone was ready for the guests and celebrities to drip in. Some motivated fans already stood around, taking in the food and discussing recent fight strategies.
Of course the word was out that one huge star cannot be amiss (as it is during these opening events). In this case the big VIP scheduled to arrive later-on was Ronda Rousey, a current champion of Women’s Bantamweight and owner of an Olympic Medal.
But before her eccentric entrance, a crowd of important-looking suit people, further guests, and more fans dropped by. The martial arts wrestler Cody McKenzie was standing around in a group, goofing off. I caught him when eating food and he felt slightly embarrassed of me having taken a picture of that. He tried to overshadow previous pictures by looking into the camera with a boxer-like demeanor.
More people relevant to the industry were there, signing photographs and
pretending to be present making connections. For example, Uriah Hall was quite fun to look at when interviewed by Bloomberg News. He even showed the crew some tricks and motivated them to participate in his headlock moves. Altogether, the vibes at this even were splendid and the people in such a great mood.
A Californian radio station named Impact Syndicate broadcast the event live to its listeners on the West Coast. As I found out later-on, this particular show was also meant to be on AFN, which is the Armed Forces Network. Since my parents overseas are well aware of this station, it was a weirdly abstract idea for me to think how people in my home town would be listening to the show I was currently present at.
And then, halfway in but not too late, she finally arrived: Ronda Rousey with her own camera man and body guard. After being called into the ring, where she was announced by the CEO of the UFC, she gave her introductory speech. Then lots of posing and fake fighter moves with fans happened on the ground. She went on to signing an oversized poster of herself that was hung on the gym wall and her picture was taken with the soon-to-be owner of the UFC in Philly. Keep an eye out for Larry Mays and his future project only 2 hours from here, as it’s scheduled to open up in September.
Ronda went on to being interviewed by first Bloomberg News and then an independent blogger network (with Latin background). As an observing fan told me while we stood to the side she is known for “trash” talking her opponents during such interviews (but it appeared rather harmless to me). While she was busy
looking serious in front of the camera answering questions, Rob McCullough called in a short work-out session with other animated fans. About ten people were jumping across up and down the floor at first. The second step was kicking the sandbags. Rob corrected some participants’ moves and coached for a good half hour.
At around 8 PM the place started to feel empty and people were gathering for one last picture in front of the UFC canvas. Some more goofy poses from Uriah Hall with the corporate staff of the UFC and then the party continued at the Gansevoort Hotel. A successful opening night to the new gym at John Street!