UFC Japan Military Base Visits

Yesterday morning, we got up at 7:00 to head downstairs for a special appearance with UFC fighters Carlos Condit and Roy Nelson. We met our Navy liaison Jay downstairs and departed the hotel for our adventure. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than a long day. We arrived at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, in Kanagawa prefecture, about an hour later and that’s where the real fun began.

Upon arrival at the Navy base, we first stopped at McDonalds for everyone to grab a healthy breakfast and coffee, then headed over to the Liberty center, which Jay runs, to meet a couple staff members and gear up for the rest of the day. The center he has put together is really impressive. They have a gaming room with pool tables and foosball; a theater room with a large projection screen, beanbags and lounge chairs, and even a popcorn machine; a separate lounge area with numerous flat screen tvs and massage chairs; and a media lounge where they have a nice array of computers and a mini-music studio with sound-proof booths for drums and guitar/vocals. It was very impressive to see the investment of funds into providing our troops with a relaxing outlet.

Our first stop on the base tour was Strike Fighter Squadron 195 (VFA-195), aka the “Dambusters”. We arrived at the hanger just in time as they were sending out approximately 30 F-18’s for a training mission. The noise level was deafening throughout the whole visit, but it became apparent right away how special this day was going to be. Seeing the response from the sailors, the smiles on their faces, was awesome. We had limited time with each squadron, so we only had about 15-20 minutes to sit and chat with them. After a group photo, which saw Roy Nelson strap in some headgear and climb atop a plane, we were off to our next stop down the flight line.

Up next was VFA-27, aka the “Royal Maces”. This was a slightly smaller squadron, but the sailors were equally enthused. I had a good chat with one of the sailors, “Woody”, about various bombs and missiles they had in the hangar. He also gave the chance to see the inside of one of the wings of an F-18 that was being repaired and wanted to show me the cockpit, but due to our limited time it wasn’t possible.

After that, we drove down to the end of the flight line to visit VFA-102, aka the “Diamondbacks”. Our guide quickly pointed out this was his favorite squadron as it’s where he had spent some time during his enlistment. The PAO quickly took us out on the flight line to get an up-close view of one of the F/A-18 Super Hornets and take some pictures in front of it. We came back inside the hanger to do more autographs and pictures, just as some of their planes were returning from the training mission.

After the visits to the fighter squadrons, we headed over to the Navy Exchange (NEX) for another autograph signing and ticket raffle. Troops and their families lined up out the door to meet and greet Roy and Carlos, and through out the time they would draw numbers to give away tickets to the fight. What I saw at the NEX that has left a lasting impression on me is the families behind these amazing troops. It was something else to see all the women and children who are apart of our great military system.

We had a little downtime after the signing, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the food court before heading back to the Liberty center for a few more photos with the staff.

Our time at Atsugi was up, so we loaded back in the van for Jay to drive us over to Camp Zama Army Post about 15-20 minutes away. We navigated through various narrow streets until we came over a hill and arrived at the main gate. The security guards examined our official orders and waved us through. We stopped at the PX for an autograph signing with troops and their families. We were here in the front lobby of the PX for about an hour before heading out to the next stop.

We actually had a bit of time before our final scheduled appearance, so our Army guides took us to an on-base sports bar to relax for a bit. We watched the Lakers vs Thunder for about 45 minutes before heading over to the Zama Youth Center.

The Youth Center was a brand new facility, and I must say as a father, I was truly amazed. What they have built for the military children and the services they provide are simply incredible. The facility had a state of the art computer lab, several entertainment rooms with various games for all ages, a homework/study room, a craft room, a ballet/dance room, and a full-court basketball gym with a rock-climbing wall. It made me so proud to see them taking such an interest in the well-being of the children who are effected by their parents’ military deployment. It was a very nice cap to an awesome day.

Below is a gallery of images I shot throughout the day.

UFC Japan Base Visits – Images by Joshua Hedges

UFC 143 Diaz vs Condit Gallery

Hey everybody. What a great night of fights last night. As usual, I covered UFC 143 for Getty Images and UFC. The annual Superbowl weekend event was originally set to feature a Welterweight Championship battle between heated rivals Nick Diaz and Champion Georges St-Pierre. However, a training injury sidelined St-Pierre and gave Carlos Condit his big shot at UFC gold. The new contest between Diaz and Condit was established to be for an interim championship belt, since St-Pierre could be out of action for up to a year.

As is sometimes the case, the undercard fights nearly stole the show. In the first bout of the night between debuting fighters Stephen Thompson and Dan Stittgen, the KO of the Night award was handed out when Thompson landed a great three strike combo, finishing with a high kick that put Stittgen out for good. Matt Brown also had a great performance in knocking out Chris Cope. Newcomer Henry Martinez looked great in his debut, but came up just a hair short in a split-decision loss to Matthew Riddle. The Submission of the Night award was won by Dustin Poirier who transitioned beautifully between different submissions on the ground, finally tapping out Max Holloway with a mounted triangle/arm bar.

The new UFC intro aired in-house to get the crowd fired up, and I must say it was quite awesome. Before the fight, I had a chance to grab shots of a lot of celebrities in attendance, including my friend Wilmer Valderama, Vanilla Ice, Benji and Joel Madden, Jaime Pressly, MC Hammer, Roy Jones Jr, and all-time hits leader Pete Rose. MC Hammer was actually there for the first fight of the night, which is impressive if you’ve ever been to a UFC in Vegas. Barely anyone is in the arena for the first 2-3 fights.

Starting off the main card was Ed Herman weathering a good storm from Clifford Starks and eventually putting him away with a rear choke submission. Renan Barao handled Scott Jorgensen with a unanimous decision, running his unbeaten streak to 28 fights. Welterweights Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce went the distance, as well, with Koscheck winning a split decision. In my opinion, I thought Pierce did enough to win. In the co-main event, Fabricio Werdum completely dominated the always-tough Roy “Big Country” Nelson, scoring a unanimous decision. Both men were awarded the Fight of the Night bonus after their performance.

The main event didn’t end up being the slugfest everyone had hoped for, but was still a decent, highly technical fight. Carlos Condit ended up scoring a unanimous decision victory Nick Diaz with the judges’ cards reading 48-47, 49-46, 49-46. A lot of people apparently feel Diaz should have won. I personally don’t see how, but I’ll concede that I don’t get the best view of the fight from a judging perspective. I had Diaz winning only one round, with one more being close. A very frustrated Diaz appeared to announce his retirement from MMA in the Octagon after the fight, stating that he’s “tired of playing this game.” Condit captures the interim UFC Welterweight Championship with the victory, as well as a brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle. Quote of the night comes from Condit at the post-fight presser when asked what Diaz was saying to him throughout the fight. He said at one point, after he threw a spinning backfist, Diaz said to him “Oh, so we’re throwing spinning shit now?” Carlos said, “I had to laugh at that.”

We tried out some strobes for the first time during live fights, with a couple lights mounted at different angles, and on different channels. I think they turned out great, especially the ones I shot from the press box overhead. This is definitely something we will be doing again. Big thanks to Nick Laham for the idea and allowing me to use them to capture a few shots. Also thanks to our always trusty assistant Mike Roach for helping with the rigging and testing.

Below is a selection of shots I captured throughout the night. Check out the rest from all our photographers on Getty Images and UFC.com.

UFC 143 Diaz vs Condit – Images by Joshua Hedges

UFC 143 Weigh In Gallery

My long day is finally over and it had the perfect ending – a great dinner with my lovely wife and photographer/friend Nick Laham. I was at Mandalay Bay early this morning to begin setting up a remote camera for the fights tomorrow. That all went pretty smooth, and hopefully there will be some good moments to capture. After we finished that up, it was about time to start getting ready for the weigh in.

The arena, and especially the smaller-than-usual media section, started filling up earlier than normal. As a result, I was trapped in my seat for much longer than I’d care to be so as to insure I would not loose it. UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre was the special guest for today’s UFC Fight Club Q&A session. He revealed that he expects to be back training in fight mode by July and should probably be ready to fight the winner of Diaz vs Condit in the fall. Georges was not at all secretive about his desire for Nick Diaz to defeat Carlos Condit so that he will finally be able to fight Diaz. St-Pierre also stated that he thinks Nick Diaz has some mental problems, but was quick to add that he himself also has his own demons which nobody sees. All-in-all, it was a good Q&A session with the champ.

As the weigh ins approached, my buddy Rod Mar showed up and took a seat next to me. It’s always nice passing the time by talking shop with fellow photographers and friends. The hour was eclipsed in no time and the weigh ins began. No great surprises as everyone made weight. Only Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres had to employee the use of the towel to reach his contracted weight. Mike Pierce took a shot across the bow of Josh Koscheck by donning a bleach blonde wig for his face off with Koscheck. The two had to be separated by UFC President Dana White. Expect some heavy leather to be thrown in this bout.

Heavyweight Roy Nelson looked much slimmer as he tipped the scale at 246 pounds for his bout against Fabricio Werdum. That’s six pounds lighter than his last bout against Mirko Cro Cop and nearly 20 pounds down from his heaviest fighting weight inside the Octagon. Werdum also weighed in at 246 pounds in his return to the Octagon after more than three years away.

And in the main event, both Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit weighed in a pound under the limit for their Interim Welterweight Championship bout, capping off what should be a great night of fights. One things is for sure, this bout promises to be non-stop excitement. Both fighters are known for their fan-friendly fighting styles and willingness to try to finish the fight, not just score points.

Below is a gallery of shots from this afternoon’s weigh in event. As always, be sure to check them out at Getty Images and UFC.com, as well.

UFC 143 Weigh In – Images by Joshua Hedges

UFC 143 Open Workouts Gallery

Just a quick update before I finally head to bed. The UFC 143 open workouts took place earlier today inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center. The six top fighters on the card – Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Koscheck, and Mike Pierce – were all in attendance. As a special treat, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre held a media scrum for about 30 minutes before the workouts started.

You can check out a selection of images from the day below. Also check out Getty Images and UFC.com.

UFC 143 Open Workouts – Images by Joshua Hedges