Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009 | midnight
Day 5: Saturday
PHILADELPHIA — So no trip to Philly would be complete without visiting the steps where the people’s champ, Rocky Balboa, made cinematic history.
Cape Cod native Tommy Sands and his five friends from Boston and the Cape area thought the same thing.
Plus they had a little time to kill before tonight’s historic UFC 101 card — the real reason for their road trip to “The City of Brotherly Love.”
“Pretty cool to run the steps,” said Eddie Lee, sporting a Red Sox hat even though he was still bumming from A-Rod’s crushing blow to his team from the night before.
Friend Sean Harrington said while he enjoyed watching the fellow tourists run the steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was ready to get to the Wachovia Center to watch Boston’s own Kenny Florian “defeat” B.J. Penn.
“It’s his time, he’s hungry,” Harrington said. “Just look at what he’s done his last six fights. No doubt a-b-o-u-t it!”
Sands said the trek to Philly has been awesome, but pleaded for Dana White to get MMA sanctioned in their own backyard so they could watch in Boston.
“I’m no match-maker, but after Florian wins tonight, it will be about the right time for him to defend the title at the beginning of 2010 — which we should be sanctioned by then. I’m just saying … ,” Sands said with a big smile.
While Andy focused his attention on the Rocky steps and the groups of tourists mimicking the infamous climb to the top, my attention was caught by a nearby statue that every tourist that ever makes it to the art museum has to check out.
Most of the statues that surround the museum are pleasant. There's Rocky, a moose sitting on the edge of a fountain and an old European-looking character looking up at a cross.
But this, um, work of art appeared to peer into your soul. Sitting just to a short walk away from Rocky is a boy with eyes that have that ability to appear to be looking at you no matter where you are. He's pointing out towards his audience and to top it off, he's missing his left arm. I'm not sure if he's supposed to be missing it or if it needs to be fixed, but it definitely adds to the creepiness factor.
If you think I'm exaggerating, just look at the picture we added into the system so you could see this thing. I think most of you will agree that Apollo Creed has nothing on this guy.
Day 4: Friday — ‘Dana the Dream Maker’ & ‘Ortiz the Slugger’
Section 116 of the Wachovia Center might as well have been called the “Dana White Dream Factory” Friday afternoon.
The UFC president was Philadelphia MMA fans’ genie, granting more wishes than any blue-faced, floating lamp dweller.
Grown men were shaking in his presence while others hoped to land a job with the premiere mixed martial arts organization in the world.
By the time White’s hour-long question and answer session before a few hundred UFC fan club members came to an end, White was entrenched in a line some 30-deep with fans looking to shake his hand, for an autograph, or snap a quick photo.
“Philly absolutely showed us what they’re about,” screamed White, who was decked out in a Shane Victorino No. 8 Phillies jersey — but actually received a few joking boos from the hard-core Philly fan base when he showed him 20 minutes late.
No fan was more excited (or clever) about Friday’s events than Cincinnati resident Michael Theetage, who told White that since there is always an empty seat each event next to the Octagon girls: “Can he sit in it?”
“Sure buddy,” White replied.
“I can’t believe he actually agreed to it,” said an excited Theetage, who said he’s bought more than 20 UFC pay-per-views.
Later in the session, after countless fans trying to land a job with the UFC (“ufc.com/jobs” became a common theme along with “Section 116”), Theetage’s buddy tried to pull a similar stunt on White and asked if he could bring his high-end camera inside and sit by the “Voice of the Octagon” Bruce Buffer.
“Bro, you got (expletive). Your friend is sitting next to the Octagon girls and you’ll be up top without your camera,” White said as the audience reeled in laughter.
“He got it cause that was the most creative one I’ve heard in a while.”
In honor of Tito Ortiz’ return to the UFC, the organization invited media members to dinner Friday evening.
A sharp-dressed Ortiz entertained throughout, telling funny stories and promising that “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is 100-percent healthy and will once again reclaim his 205-pound belt.
Former UFC welterweight champ Matt Serra also took part in the event with a dozen or so media members. Serra — who like Ortiz and his wife Jenna Jameson — recently became a proud parent to daughter Angelina, promised he would get MMA legalized in New York.
Earlier in the afternoon, Ortiz took batting practice with Victorino in the Phillies. While he estimated he hadn’t swung a bat since a teenager, Ortiz (sporting a fresh blister from the experience) hit several long drive to the outfield.
“Ah man, I was trying to (expletive) knock one out,” said an excited Ortiz. “The Phillies were a good time, they have several guys who train in MMA. It was a cool experience on both sides.”
Day 3: Thursday — Press conference, Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks
This ain’t Vegas, or even Atlantic City for that matter.
Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb made sure to preach the message that Philly fight fans are a different kind of breed.
“They have great fighters in Vegas, no disrespect. They have great fighters in New Jersey, no disrespect. But this is Philly. It’s a little different here,” said Sirb, is East Coast accent ringing out during Thursday’s press conference in preparation for UFC 101 — the first major UFC show on the East Coast since UFC 78 took place in Newark, New Jersey in November of 2007.
“If you bring your ‘A’ game, (the crowd) will bring their ‘A’ game. If you bring your ‘B’ game, they’ll bring their ‘B’ game. And the ‘B’ game is you-know-what. They’ll boo you if you bring your ‘B’ game.”
While Sirb wasn’t the tallest in stature the former collegiate wrestler from Edinboro University has been around the fight game for a long time.
Sirb promised the four main event contenders, B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian, Anderson Silva, and Forrest Griffin, that if you reward Philly fans, they’ll reward them in Rocky Balboa fashion. If not, then you might want to duck and cover.
After all, this is the town famous for throwing D-cell batteries at its players and booing Santa Claus.
Following a UFC press conference that was held at the Philadelphia Visitors Center in downtown, we attempted to squeeze in a quick shot of sightseeing by heading to the Liberty Bell Center that sat right across the street.
I don't know why, but I guess I expected it to be hanging somewhere high with a stairwell leading to it so you could see it as it was back in its glory days during the colonial period.
No. It just sits in the back with a rope around it and you could definitely reach out and touch it if you really wanted to. I bet kids who don't know any better do it all the time.
By the way, at the press conference White confirmed for the one millionth time that he is base jumping off Mandalay Bay just as he said he would if UFC 100 reached 1.5 million pay-per-view buys (which it did). I think everybody is looking forward to that.
So you can’t go to Philly without getting a cheesesteak, right?
We’ve heard all about the beef going on between Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks in South Philly. We figured we would put the two steak-selling sandwich shops to our own personal taste test.
(That is if we got there. We hopped in with a rookie cabbie from our downtown hotel. He was new to the job obviously, as he didn’t know where the two famous steak stands were located and the GPS on his dash wasn’t exactly serving as the navigational beacon it was meant to be. After finally getting the directions via a fellow cabbie blaring them out in a foreign language through our driver’s Bluetooth, we were on our way.
One almost-run stop sign later, mixed in with an angry policeman who repeatedly offered to levy a hefty fine if our friend didn’t move his (expletive) cab, and we had made our stop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. Best of luck on the beat boss.)
We rolled up on Geno’s first, how could you not? It looked like a caloric Coney Island with bright lights everywhere and people lined up outside its awning as kids and young men shot hoops at the courts nearby.
I decided to go with Geno’s (Disclosure: I actually had one the first night at the ballgame), and the Cheese Whiz. I grabbed my sandwich after we made small talk with long-time worker Joseph Perno.
He says the highlight of his career was serving an original to Michael Jordan after he scored his 10,000th point in 1989. MJ later returned the favor by autographing a basketball for the Geno’s historian, who also served Bill Clinton a steak before he was the prez.
We took our grub the half block over to the much darker, Pat’s. Brett orderd a steak with mushrooms and extra hot sauce. Just to keep up with our vegetable intake for the day, we threw in an order of cheese fries.
The winner? Brett loved Pat’s, and I say nobody beat the (cheese) whiz (Think Seinfeld). The race had to be scored a tie, but in overtime Pat’s extra cheese fries prevailed. It was like eating crunchy mac and cheese.
Moments later a barkeep at South Philly Bar and Grill said we were all wrong, that the true battle for cheesesteak superiority in the city was between Jim’s and Tony Luke’s.
We’ll get back to you on that one tomorrow.
Day 2: Wednesday — Media workouts and training talk
The UFC is great about making its events a week-long ordeal, starting on Wednesday with the open media workouts. Basically what these are is a chance for media members to ask questions and get photo and video of the fighters for the first time in the host city leading up to their bouts.
Big-time UFC fan and Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino was on hand to wish his fellow Hawaiian native B.J. Penn good luck.
Two fighters stood out the most from UFC 101's open workout and, coincidentally, they're fighting each other: Forrest Griffin and Anderson Silva.
Here's the thing about media workouts, very rarely does a fighter ever work out. These things are photo-ops, so fighters are obligated to bring a training partner and roll around on the mat for awhile, but usually it goes fairly quick so they can answer questions and take off.
Griffin and Silva went the extra mile today. They worked out extremely hard, even prompting UFC public relations and former Newsday writer Joe Fernandez to jokingly say, "Hey Forrest, can you work out a little harder next time?"
After starting the session by jokingly threatening to beat up the horde of "paparazzi," Griffin — whose best one-liner was directed at Showdown Joe Ferraro. After the Canadian journalist explained his station was like the ESPN of Canada, Griffin fired back: "You know what the ESPN of Canada is ... ESPN." — kicked his intensity into high gear with a series of high leg kicks that bounced off his training partner's pads with a resounding echo throughout the room.
Silva brought three members of his camp whom he fought in intervals between running laps around the mat and pinching his manager Ed Soares' nipples (Silva is a jokester for those who don't know). Although their approach is a little different, it is clear that both these guys are fired up for Saturday.
Day 1: Tuesday — Welcome to Phillly, and a trip to the ballpark
We touch down in Philadelphia right on schedule. Interesting note: To take full advantage of our five-hour flight, Andy spent the time writing a story on Las Vegas fighter Amir Sadollah, who is facing Johny Hendricks on the televised portion of the UFC 101 card. Interestingly enough, Sadollah was on our flight, sitting about two seats behind us. So ... little did he know that as he slept through most of the fight, a story about him was being published by a writer sitting literally 10 feet away. Weird.
Philadelphia is a great city, but it's not one of those that impresses immediately. The airport is a bit outdated and the scenery surrounding the drive into downtown is kind of depressing unless you have a thing for smokestacks. Still, once you reach Market Street and the heart of the "City of Brotherly Love," it's a pretty awesome atmosphere.
Two hours after landing we are headed to Citizens Bank Ballpark to see the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies play. Actually, as a Colorado State University alum, I'm headed to see the away team — the Rockies.
Andy was a little nervous about sitting next to a guy wearing the away team's jersey in front of the same fans that once threw batteries at J.D. Drew for not signing with the Phillies. But really, apart from a few unpleasant looks and a female fan fake-gagging towards me, I found the fans to be alright. And the Rocks won 8-3.
I'm actually impressed that my buddy made it through the game without incident or a D-cell battery lobbed his way. Although I'm not a Rockies fan, being from Kansas (home of those AL Central Division-leading Royals), it's just nice to see some good baseball.
I wore neutral colors, but had I decided to root, root, root for the home team, I don't know what color I would have picked. Let's just say that Phillies fans haven't exactly mastered the white-out like Texas A&M or the Miami Heat have. Fans rocked the new school, blue and red colors, alongside other spectators decked out in the old-school maroon and baby blue. There were white Ryan Howard jerseys with maroon pinstripes and throwback cream-colored knits that would have made Ty Cobb proud. Still the strangest shade had to be the green on maroon, Mike Schmidt T-shirt.
Two other colors were distinctly Philly, the burnt orange/yellow of the cheese whiz that lined our Geno's cheesesteak, and the dark brown liquid that filled a few Yuengling bottles.
No wonder the founding fathers picked this place.
- Andy Samuelson