As I sit atop section 134 of Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, spinning my coke. Just seconds after the current Flyweight king, Henry Cejudo blasted through Wilson Reis to earn a TKO victory. My legs shake with anticipation as I sit there wearing a Bud Light hat, a Generic UFC shirt, and a Grey pair of laceless Reeboks that i nearly tore in two while jamming them on my pie-plate foot.
Everything kept going through my mind: Maybe things have changed, I hope, I hope I don’t miss the text, oh shit maybe I had one too many drinks, was everything just all a big joke? Each passing second felt like an hour and I must have nervously glanced at my watch over a dozen times.
Now, what would cause such anxiety? I mean, at a live fight, with my brother, my uncle, and one of my good friends. To learn where this all started we need to rewind to about three weeks ago to a lunch break…
I was scrolling down through Facebook and came across an ad for “Bud Light Living”. At the time the UFC had a major sponsorship deal with Anheuser Busch, or to be more anglical; Bud Light
There had thus been a huge contest back in 2016 where the UFC were going to bring a fan to Montreal and treat them to a once in a lifetime VIP experience.
Reading the advertisement I noticed it was offering this type of VIP experience for UFC 215. I clicked on the ad and started reading. It was offering special seats to the weigh ins, A video game session with the fighters, a special event with the fighters (which turned out to be archery tag), and a supper with Bruce Buffer and a game of UFC trivia.
I looked at the price, as i was certain it would be in the $1000 range, but to my surprise it was a low price of $99. I quickly got on the phone with my brother, as we were heading out to UFC 215 for my bachelor party. Matt is up for anything so we bought our experience tickets and set our expectations low. I mean, how great could it be for 99 bucks?
On the day of the experience we headed down to the arena, which was the designated meeting place to kick off the experience.
Fast forward a few minutes later, and we were inside checking out the actual octagon, I remember walking in and the first thing I did was bounce up and down. I’ve always been curious how it felt, was it stiff or was is padded. It does have a little give, but I soon came to the conclusion that getting slammed on it doesn’t seem like fun.
This is where I met the first UFC employee; Steve is one the the UFC’s main security guys, you see him on the broadcasts sometimes. He’s the bald one. He spoke with an attitude that recked of authority and everyone took notice of what he said. “Take off your shoes before you get in, no exceptions”.
Steve was a real tough cat, but showed the upmost respect for us. He was kind and took the time to talk with us. Cracking jokes and even asked one guy if he would like to hire him for some bodyguard work.
SO… now we are at a bar in downtown Edmonton. Bud Light on the table and an amazing spread of food. There were two fighters there and Bruce Buffer. As we were eating our meal a host grabbed the mic to prime the group for the upcoming trivia quiz.
All seemed par for the coarse until they announced the prize for winning the quiz:
“The winner of tonight’s trivia will walk out with the champion, Amanda Nunes, tomorrow night when she defends her title.”
Matt looks at me: “What the f*ck did he just say?”
That’s right, for a mere $99 dollars we were given the opportunity to walk down to the cage with one of the greatest fighters to ever step in there. Armed with over a decade worth of fandom and a head full of UFC facts I was the last one standing after five rounds of action, the five rounds thing is a total coincidence .
I had my name announced by Buffer and they stuck a camera in my face in order for me to shoot a promo for them. They ended up using some guy who was super excited the entire time he was there.
As the night drew to a close I was introduced to Ryan Richeal. I was given a rundown of how this will all happen on the night of the event. The last thing he said to me was “don’t get drunk, we can’t have you down there while intoxicated” to which i stated that “no worries there, i only have 30% kidney function.”
So, with the back story complete, back to sitting in the arena waiting for for the moment to come. I would call this walkout a bucket list item, but that would be a lie. A bucket list item is something you believe you have a chance at, never in my life did i ever expect to walk out with a UFC fighter, let alone a champion.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, it’s Ryan: “Ready to go?”
Damn skippy. Then Ryan leans in, “We’re taking your brother too.”
This was Matt’s first live UFC event and now he was about to get treated to floor seats. We make our way down to the floor, Ryan flashes his magic badge at anyone who came near and they moved aside like those doors from metroid.
As we work out way towards the VIP seating Ryan leans in and asks me “So, is that true that you only have 30% kidney function?”
I answered yes and we had a talk that i will not be getting into in this article, and at that moment I made a true friend with Ryan. I still keep in contact with him. After we finished our conversation he explained to me what was going to happen and how important it was that i listen to everyone because there’s cameras everywhere and the last thing they need is some random fan tripping up a camera man or having a nice shot foiled by the back of my head.
Next i’m handed off to Steve, remember the guy from earlier? Steve walks me back stage to show me around, I walk past Rick Glenn fresh off the beating he put on Gavin Tucker.
I made my way back to my seat, across from me was Matt. He was sitting there in disbelief that we were so close to the cage. He took the time to snap a photo of me as i sat there like a dope with a grin on my face.
Dos Anjos went on to make quick work of Neil Magny with an arm triangle, the moment had come. It was time for me to walk down to the cage with the champion, but not only the champion, I was to accompany the the challenger on her way to do battle as well.
Steve came to grab me and bring me back to the starting position. we would wait until the fighter and their cam would pass and follow the commission staff out. As we were standing there I caught a glimpse of Shevcenko, her eyes deep in concentration. I tried to look her in the eyes, but she was simply in the zone.
The music starts and Steve starts to bellow orders to those around him, “get out the the way”, “watch the chord”, “no mate, in the lunch room for now”
As I see Valentina pass by, I take a moment to take a deep breath. Trying desperately to hang on to this moment. Soak it all in for i will never get to do something like this ever again. Finally it’s my turn and I head through the curtain. The crowd are in a frenzy, a sea of faces reaching towards the isle in hopes to get a high five.
Shevcenko moves along without noticing much, but me, being the absolute dork that I am, started slapping hands with the fans on my way out. They must have been thinking “who the fuck is this idiot?”
I didn’t even smile, I was trying to live in that moment and enjoy it all. Not waste time on getting a phone out, i wanted these memories in my mind, not on film or a digital device.
We get to the prep point and Steve turns us around and we scurry back to the starting point again. I can feel my heart fluttering, the time is flying too fast and I find myself wanting to freeze everything, just so I can take this all in properly. The machine doesn’t stop for anyone and before I knew it I was back out in the craziness again. No slapping hands this time, just pure focus on the moment. I close my eyes to feel the electricity go through me, just feel the energy of the building.
I get led by the hand like a child by Steve, because this time we would need to move past the prep point and not stand next to it. If you watch Nunes’ intro on fight pass you can actually see me being pulled through the crowd, I nearly bulldoze a commission member.
I get taken to my seat next to my brother. He asks me what it was like and I wasn’t able to tell him so I kept saying “Amazing”.
On a personal note this was huge for me for many reasons. It had been a trying few years. In November of 2012 I was crippled by a case of gout that went untreated for years. Shortly after getting my leg back in 2014, my city was hit by one of the worst wild fires in Canada. I was evacuated from my home on May 3rd, 2016 with a fire that was coined “The Beast”, it carved a path of destruction and destroyed 2400 structures in its wake. Then in January of 2017 I lost one of the most important people in my life when my grandmother passed away.
At the time of the event, I was still an emotional wreck much of the time. Spending days just sitting around with a pen and paper trying to write a poem or something to try and get the pain out of my head and on to the page.
That weekend with my brother was special, not only because of what I got to do, but because of the people I met along the way. Ryan was amazing to me and my brother, was happy to have us there. Keep in mind we are not high rollers who donated a ton of money to get this experience, it was 99 bucks, but we were treated like royalty.
I have never asked him, but I’m convinced that having my brother down with me wasn’t part of the deal it’s just something he did for us. Being able to share this with Matt took it to another level. Seeing him gush over the cage side seats and his pure excitement was enough for me.
We spent some time in the cage after the event, for me it was more so a time for me to talk to Ryan and thank him for the treatment we received. I wish i could repay him for what he did for us that day, I hugged him an uncomfortable amount of times I’m sure, but I just wasn’t allow to convey how much that entire thing meant to me.
As fans, the UFC looks like this heartless machine that parades through a city with no soul of heart, but I’ve been lucky to meet the people behind the three letters. Ryan is an amazing person, me might be a small part of that machine, but he was so open and kind to my brother and I. At no point did we feel unwelcome even though we were in the same section as Connor MacDavid.
So to you, Ryan thank you for such an amazing experience and thank you for showing us amazing hospitality. Meeting you was just as much a highlight as meeting the fighters.
My brother summed it all up perfectly “Well that ruins me for coming to UFC events, what’s going to top that?”