Watch a dozen men beat the life out of each other, in an octagon cage, before an aroused crowd, while getting liquored up on watered-down cocktails -- and you're bound to have an epiphany. Mine happened somewhere between stepping onto a crowded elevator in Mandalay Bay a week ago Saturday and splashing cold water on my face in the airport ladies room Sunday morning.
My plane touched down on the McCarran tarmac at 1:32 p.m. on Saturday. I was down about a hundred bucks by 3 and rode a buzz into The Octagon arena by 5. The next day I was in the air heading back to LAX at 10:46 a.m. Twenty-one hours and 14 minutes in Sin City. One Ultimate Fighting Championship experience. That's all it took for a jarring reminder that advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy crap we don't need.
No wonder we're so apathetic.
That night in Vegas confirmed that my generation has been raised on television to believe that one day we'll all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars but we won't.
Twenty-one hours in Las Vegas for a UFC brawl kicked me upside the head with a revised take on priorities and the place of my generation in this world. It all happened under a real-life spell of Tyler Durden. He was at the controls while I was in an arena seat, cheering on a slugfest, making wagers with the row of four large Hawaiians behind me. I was waiting for the next blow, eager for the big haymaker, and completely caught up in the fight-club flurry.
I was Jack's cold sweat.
I'm a 26-year-old woman born in upstate New York, raised in bucolic Connecticut suburbs and educated by friars in brown robes at a small college in the Berkshires. I listen to public radio. I drink nonfat lattes while thumbing through the L.A. Times in black, plastic-framed reading glasses. I display a Human Rights Campaign bumper sticker on my car. I had a vegetarian phase.
I hate to pigeonhole myself, but I'm not supposed to like the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I'm supposed to think it's barbarically primal, and offensive, and artless.
But you met me at a very strange time in my life.
After my first trip to Las Vegas, my attitude is different. I was completely riveted by UFC 62.
Prior to that Saturday night, I couldn't have told you what UFC stands for. I had never even seen a boxing match before. I dated a wrestler in high school, but aside from his tournaments (of which the only thing I can remember is the distinct smell of sweat, feet and the diluted bleach solution used to clean the mats) I had never seen an organized fight. I wouldn't even know how to order something on pay-per-view.
I did witness a brawl once in a parking lot in Hartford after a Dave Matthews Band concert, complete with rubber bullets and pepper spray. I remember sitting on top of my friend's dad's minivan crying while I watched four strangers land punches, break noses and blacken eyes. Their shirtless backs were bloody from rolling around on gravel and broken glass. That sight really messed with me. I'll never forget it.
I found myself thinking about that night for the first time in years when my friend Stephanie back in Connecticut hit me with an e-mail a few weeks ago -- Subject: Vegas UFC Style. She explained how she happened into two tickets to the big event from her friend, UFC president Dana White, who fixed her up with a room at the resort and sweet seats that were sure to be only a few rows from The Octagon. The price tag on the stub was 750 beans.
I couldn't pass this up, but I began having graphic daydreams about what would transpire ringside. I imagined it being a little like Sea World, only instead of a dousing from Shamu we'd be spewed with gore as Chuck Liddell pulled some guy's arm out and beat him over the head with the bloody stump. I shook myself from this gruesome reverie and sent Steph a text message:
"So, what do you wear to watch two guys kick the crap out of each other?"
Steph's reply: "Yay. Hot pants, red heels and a sexy halter. Can't wait."
That's why I love Steph. And I'm not alone. Steph happens to be the Alpha-Female of Bristol, Conn. She is a vixen, once described as "the one with the trail of men's souls crawling on their knees behind her." The male species is putty in her hand (see: "Happened into two tickets to the biggest event of the year. Ringside."). Her lip gloss is as capable as a Taser gun. She will eat you alive. She is a predator disguised as a house pet, and of course she is a huge fan of the UFC.
On Friday Steph called me on her way to the airport to freak out a little bit. This would be her first trip to Vegas, too. Our minds were reeling with thoughts of what the hotel would be like and the casino floor and the strip and the fight. Then, out of nowhere, Steph starts rattling off names and stats of ultimate fighters. "Can't wait for the Griffin-Bonnar rematch main event is huge Brazilian has won 10 straight The Iceman's just too good welterweight Josh Neer is one crazy mother lightweights are so fast Spencer Fisher is out with an injury Franca on two days notice has the submission advantage "
I couldn't believe it. Steph hates sports -- she probably couldn't tell Reggie Bush from Dontrelle Willis -- but here she is, a UFC stat-head. Later on, in the car, behind the wheel on I-91, she was rattling off figures and predictions off the top of her head.
"Who are you all of a sudden?" I asked.
"What? I love this sport."
"She hates sports but she loves the UFC," I thought to myself, which vaulted me back to a Chicago nightclub where I engaged in a "What is sport?" discussion with Mr. Scoop Jackson a few weeks ago. My answer would surely have been different then -- pre-UFC 62 -- but after watching two guys who have trained their hearts out compete in a test of the most basic and compulsory elements of athleticism, I'd have to say that this mixed martial-arts stuff is 100 percent Grade A sport. It's certainly more of a sport than cycling. Seriously, a karate/jujitsu/wrestling/boxing-trained bare-knuckle fighter, or a bike rider -- who's the real athlete?
The Tour de France is a glorified weight-loss program in the face of ultimate fighting.
So I concluded it's a sport but still wondered why the UFC is riding a cultural tidal wave of momentum. After the fight, I was waiting in line for a cold bottle of something not made of gin or tonic and chatting with the guy in front of me, Mike from the O.C. He was about my age and told me he was a huge UFC fan. "Why?" I asked him, trying to quantify what was so unique about what we had just witnessed. "Because it's real," he said. "Hard and fast and real."
That's it! That's the secret. That's what made Steph a fan. That's why 9,000 people filled the Event Center on Saturday night and so many more gathered around a TV for a piece of the action. That's why the UFC isn't perceived as some circus sideshow of WWE theatrics. That's why a now politically corrupt boxing circuit is causing a classic to fade away into oblivion. Last month's heavyweight boxing title bout between Oleg Maskaev and Hasim Rahman was purchased by about 60,000 pay-per-viewers, while UFC 62 netted about 500,000 buys.
Our generation is embracing a new breed of bout, and I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.
It's not hype or press conferences or fluff that gives birth to thousands of UFC fans. It's the reality of the whole thing. It's the hard-hitting mix of punching and grappling. It's the blunt competition and simplicity of a one-on-one fight. It's the brutal honesty of a fist, and the frank candor of a knockout. It's something we can wrap our minds around. Finally.
We are used to a culture that beats around the truth, mincing words and opting for fake alternatives to mask what we really mean. To soften the blow. It takes too long, and too often, in the end, we are left walking out the door of whatever we came for without the sense of a definitive result.
The Liddell-Sobral main event was called in less than two minutes. The heavyweight matchup was over in 2:51. I can handle that. Even if a UFC clash goes the whole way, it's only 15 minutes (three five-minute rounds). And that's just the ticket to winning over us 20-somethings born in the age of abundance and ADD and IKEA and financial institution-sponsored ballparks. Fifteen minutes of hard, fast and real. Damn, it's our first near-life experience!
I realized in Las Vegas that the UFC is everything our generation is not. Each bout was a frenzied skirmish that was over almost before I knew it. It was intense and painful, with a message dense and precise, served on a platter to our quick-fix prescription culture. The UFC is real sport and real entertainment that is really different than most anything else we know. It was built for us for you and me and everyone else who owns three pairs of khakis and knows what a duvet is.
The only downside of the entire UFC scene might be that there is not quite enough time to grab a beverage and run to the restroom between rounds unless you're a female. In that case, you will benefit from the lucrative male-to-female ratio of Las Vegas, which is similar to that of the iron mines in Minnesota or a certain campus in Bristol, Conn.
It seems that for every one chick there are 25 guys, which means ladies don't buy a drink all night and there is no line for the bathroom. It's phenomenal. You should have seen the line to the men's room. It was the only thing that took our attention away from The Octagon all night.
A real line for the men's room.
I am Jack's smirking revenge.
Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist and can be reached at MaryBuckheit@hotmail.com.