Sacramento: An MMA Ghost Town
In one week, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts went from obsolete to absolutely amazing in Sacramento, thanks to hometown slugger Urijah Faber and his total revival of lightweights in fighting.
But just days after the Faber vs. Pulver World Extreme Cagefighting event at Arco Arena had passed, the sport has already turned into a memory. The headlines stopped, the videos of fighters training disappeared and the buzz about town died down to a faint whisper. Apparently, if there’s nothing to sell, there’s nothing to talk about. It’s a tragedy.
The historic event, which nearly sold out Arco and opened the eyes of our area to a great sport, should instead have brought a rich enlightening to our normally mundane sports world–where the dismal Kings are our only avenue for top-tier professional athletics. For five days, it did, as we heard all over the radio – and saw every night on television and in print – that the biggest show in town was going to be at Arco Arena on June 1.
Well it was, and it was fantastic. I’ve watched MMA fights for years now, and both main events on Sunday were stuff for all-time highlight reels. I was live, right outside the cage, but I feel even from home on TV the fights would have been incredibly legendary. While most fans didn’t even know who was who throughout the night, anyone who watched got a good taste of why the sport is growing so rapidly.
But lost amidst the fandom was loyalty, I think. Sure, every media outlet wanted their taste of the brutal art as it passed through town, but now that it’s gone, their job is done. For true fans, like me, Sunday night only whet my appetite. I want more, and I can’t wait to tune in again to satisfy my hunger.
I think what bothered me the most was that no one knew who Urijah Faber was before June 1, and now everyone pretends to have always been a big fan. I’m not speaking of the guys and gals in the crowd, though. It’s a given in sports that new fans will always consistently jump on the bandwagon late in the game. Heck, in many cases – especially ones like this one – it’s embraced fully. Hey, anything to get more people to watch, right?
But it was the local media who jumped on board recently, and that’s what surprised me the most. It seemed before Urijah’s fight that Sacramento mainstream media had no interest or idea in what Mixed Martial Arts even was until the press releases started flooding our emails and the big budget advertising hit the airwaves. Suddenly, everyone with a notepad wanted a front row seat to the show, and despite knowing only one person on the entire night’s card – and even him faintly – they all showed up early to catch a glimpse at what all the hype was really about.
For longtime fans, like me, this put the panties in a bunch. I’ve been a follower of Urijah’s for years and a fan of the sport since the dog days of Royce Gracie’s dominance in the initial UFC events. I’ve watched the sport blossom into a technical thing of beauty and watched the business side of it blow up into one of the top sports organizations in the world. When seasoned reporters at the media tables were consistently asking each other, “What does that mean” or “What is he doing now,” it makes for some sad commentary.
Amazing fights made for some great media coverage that night at Arco, but a week later, the dust has settled, and MMA in Sacramento is back to looking like an abandoned ghost town. That should never happen.
Nearly a month before Urijah’s fight, the Sacramento Union began its coverage on MMA.
While the rest of the city was clueless to what the sport was even about, we sat down not only with Urijah at his gym, but also the UFC’s James “The Sandman” Irvin, a Sacramento native who was supposed to fight in Chuck Liddell’s place at this weekend’s UFC 85: Bedlam in England (he won’t now thanks to a broken foot in training). We even took the time to spend a week researching and explaining how MMA has grown from a sport overseas to one of America’s favorites. The three-part series about the sport (read the May 2, 16 and 30 issues), was then followed up with coverage on Arco’s showcase with an article hitting newsstands June 6.
But our commitment doesn’t stop there. We will follow Urijah, and any Sacramento fighter willing to give us access, as he (or she) travels a journey of slugfests and battles inside the cage. Why? Because it’s our job, and it doesn’t stop just because there isn’t a seat ringside for us to enjoy.