Hello from Sydney, Australia. After an incredible week in Japan, I’ve finally made it down to the “land down under” to cover UFC on FX: Kampmann vs Alves for UFC and Getty Images. I had intended every intention of writing this blog post along my journey, but that just did not happen. I feel like so much has happened in the last 36 hours, I’m still trying to digest it all. So, I’ll get right into it.
UFC returned to Japan for the first time in 12 years with UFC 144 as Frankie Edgar put his UFC Lightweight Championship on the line in the main event against number-one contender Benson Henderson. But before the main event, there were eleven other great fights to keep the crowd entertained.
The bus to Saitama departed the hotel at 6:00 am on fight day. Due to the time difference, the show had to take place in the morning in Japan to air during the normal timeslot in North America. After about 45 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the Saitama Super Arena. And let me just say, they hit the nail on the head with the name of this place as it truly is an awesome arena. The configuration for UFC 144 must have allowed for somewhere around 22,000 fans in attendance. Doors opened at 9:00 am and the venue started filling up quickly.
The first bout went off right around 9:30 am with Issei Tamura knocking out Tiequan Zhang in brutal fashion to get the show off to a fantastic start. Many people probably thought as I did that we had just witnessed the Knockout of the Night. Well, as fate would have it, we were wrong. But that’s a good thing for the UFC, fans, and the fighters.
Slowly but surely, the fights went down one by one. The arena was mostly full before the live pay-per-view broadcast began at noon. For the most part, the crowd wasn’t much different than some other crowds we’ve seen around the world. I expected it to be much more quiet, but there really weren’t too many quiet moments. There were even rounds of boo’s during slow moments of a couple fights.
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto had a large contingent of supporters in attendance for his bout against England’s Vaughn Lee. “Kid” looked to be on his way to victory, blasting Lee with punches in the standup exchanges. But, the Brit found a way to get it to the ground, and rather quickly started working submissions. He eventually secured an arm bar, forcing Yamamoto to tap in the first round. The victory gave Lee the Submission of the Night award, being the lone submission of the event.
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis kicked off the live pay-per-view telecast with a thrilling first round knockout of Joe Lauzon. Pettis landed a perfectly timed kick to the jaw of Lauzon, putting him down in an instant. After following up with two flush punches on the ground, the referee stopped the fight and the Knockout of the Night crown was sealed.
Following that up was going to be a tough task, but the rest of the fights did not disappoint. Mark Hunt TKO’d Cheick Kongo in the first round; Tim Boetsch came back from the brink of defeat to TKO Yushin Okami with a brutal series of uppercuts in the third round; Jake Shields scored an impressive unanimous decision victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama; and in the co-main event, Ryan Bader easily out-pointed Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The Japanese fans were treated to a classic Rampage slam during the bout, but that was really the only bright spot for Jackson throughout the three rounds.
In the main event, Benson Henderson showed up with a mission to take home the title and was not letting anyone get in his way. After dropping the first round on all three judges cards, Henderson turned it around in the second, landing a solid up-kick to the face of Edgar which stunned the champ. After that, Henderson took over and peppered the champ with kicks, knees, and punches throughout the five rounds. At the end of it all, Henderson captured the title by a unanimous judges’ decision. Both Henderson and Edgar were rightfully awarded the Fight of the Night honor.
The fights in Saitama ended around 4:00 pm and I was fortunate to get on one of the first transports back to the hotel. Having transmitted the bulk of the images throughout the fights, I only had about 30-40 left to edit and caption on the long bus ride back to the hotel. It worked out great and I was able to get everything ready so all I had to do was plug in and hit “send” when I got to my room. I wandered across the street to 7-11 to use up some of my Yen and grab lunch while the upload finished. Then, it was back to get started packing for the long journey the next morning.
I was scheduled to leave the hotel at 7:00 am the next morning for a long day of travel down to Sydney. Due to some heavy sleepers, we didn’t end up leaving the hotel until nearly 7:30. Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows that is one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate being late, especially for an international flight where there are heavier restrictions on check-in times and longer lines to wait in at the check-in desk and security. As it turned out though, we still had plenty of time. It was about an hour en route to the airport. I was able to go through the business class check-in line at the Singapore Airlines counter, thanks to my United 1K status, so check-in was a breeze. The very helpful agent also waived my baggage fees, saving me close to $1,000. Ten minutes later, I was through security and hanging out in the United lounge.
The first leg of my journey saw me fly from Tokyo’s Narita Airport seven hours down to Singapore’s Changi Airport. I had been looking forward to this trip ever since I watched Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover where he visited Singapore. The airport features a free movie theater, more shopping than you’ll find at most American malls, tons of great food, a butterfly garden, and a rooftop pool. I didn’t have a chance to make it to the pool, nor did I have the time to catch a movie. But, I did pick up some souvenirs at the Hard Rock Cafe, the 34th different one that I’ve visited, and I spent a few minutes watching the butterflies.
From Singapore, it was an additional eight hours en route to Sydney. And, for the first time in my life, I would be flying on an Airbus A380 super jumbo jet. Of course, as soon as I found this out, I requested an upper deck seat. Though, in hindsight it didn’t make any difference and probably only delayed me more from deplaning quickly upon arriving in Sydney. Singapore Air, though, is one of the nicer airlines I have had the pleasure of flying. It was a very pleasant trip, albeit very long and draining. Next time, I will definitely make more of an effort to upgrade to business class.
I knew I was in for a long day once I arrived in Sydney, but had hoped to make the best of it. The flight landed at about 7:30 am, just three hours before the open workouts were slated to start. By the time I made it through customs and boarded the bus to the hotel with the rest of the group, we had less than an hour until the workouts. So, I felt very stressed from the start. To add to the stress, there were no hotel rooms available, so I was unable to freshen up at all before going to shoot the open workouts. I apologize for anyone that was near me at the workouts if I had an odd odor. Once I started shooting the workouts, things all sort of just worked themselves out and the stress slowly alleviated. But, that’s another blog post perhaps for tomorrow.