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A Shooter’s View of the EliteXC “Circus”

Photo by Laura Griffin
Photo by my friend Laura who attended the event

When I’m shooting a fight, what is important to me no doubt differs from what is important to the audience. Except yes, there are dancers who look as if this is the first time they have ever danced in their lives.

As a member of the media, I am still outside the process. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the whole night regarding fed speeches, fixed fights, and questionable stoppages. I’m not saying the MMA industry isn’t filthy, all industries are filthy when this much money is involved. It’s not my place to comment on that. I’m just a photographer.

But what an exciting time to research the nature of media in the contemporary age! The success of MMA is joined at the hip to the rise of the internet. So then it’s no surprise that the big interviews, say with James Thompson or Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, go to websites like or instead of ESPN or the Newark Daily Record. What is surprising is the misquoting and overuse of blogs by mainstream media as news, as fact.

My eyes and ears flooded with EliteXC hate for the few days following the event but I just didn’t have the same experience. Maybe it’s because I enjoy fiesta and fiasco – I relish in emotions flying, the fanfare and fights, and even the mundane stuff. I’m interested in my framework as a shooter, and yours as a TV viewer or MMA fan. While I would happily invoke Benjamin or Barthes to discuss my theories on the meaning of MMA on mainstream television, media hype and how it plays into our expectations, occupation and experience as context for interpretation, it would just be easier to tell you a few bits from my adventure at EliteXC’s foray into primetime programming.

Yes, Nick Serra is strange. Hopefully, all of you watched the free fights on and saw Wilson Reis in his second fight for EliteXC. I hope they know he’s a keeper.

Wilson Reis celebrates

From my cageside crouching spot (long story involving a lot of finger-pointing and whining), the event is confusing but entertaining. Since I’m not waiting through commercials or listening to the commentary, the early stoppages aren’t event killers to me.

Text message from a friend, “I wish they’d stop saying it’s such a monumental event. First time on network TV, I get it, I get it.”

Gina Carano’s submission attempt lands right in front of my oh-so-enviable position behind a microphone, and I squeal, “Gogoplata!” Every time Carano pushes that front kick into Kaitlin Young’s body I hear, see, and almost feel the air coming out of her abdomen, life coughing out into the arena air. I wince a lot and subsequently miss some great photo opportunities.

During Smith vs Lawler, the fans boo and I fume. I’m on the verge of running into the stands to start my own fight with the Newark crowd. I feel a bit of rain as the two collide into cage in front of me. Pitter patter on the vinyl banner I’m using to keep my elbows from scraping on the apron. I look around me, there’s little drops of blood on my lens hood and camera. I always like the fights to go longer for the sake of more picture opportunities, but Lawler’s fingers go pretty deep into Smith’s eye. I am disappointed but not as much as Robbie Lawler.

I look at my arms and see blood on my elbow. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten blood on me during a fight.

As James Thompson walks out, I get two more text messages, “What’s up with that big dude’s ear?”

During the second round of Kimbo Slice vs James Thompson, JT has Kimbo in a crucifix and keeps elbowing him in the head while Kimbo gives the thumbs up. Kimbo’s mother breaks through security and runs into the corral screaming on the verge of tears, “No, Kevin! Oh Kevin!” Security and Kimbo’s entourage hold her back. I wish I would have shot that instead of more of Thompson elbowing since I had a really bad angle and could only see cage and corner padding.

More interestingly, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva runs up to Thompson’s corner smiling between the second and third round, ecstatically shouting tips and encouragement. Though it is jumbled and a sort of Portu-English, Silva is definitely thrilled that James Thompson might win the bout. When Thompson’s ear explodes, Sherdog photographer Dave Mandel is unlucky enough to be shooting in the path of the stream of blood and pus. Dave asks a fellow photographer to snap a photo of the blood on him with his own camera.

I look down and see I have blood on the LCD screen of my camera (which presses up against my face when I shoot), so I ask Dave, “How did that get there?” Dave’s eyes get wide, concerned, points to his gritted teeth and lips. I put my hand to my lips and he laughs, “Just kidding.”

Kimbo lays down after win - Photo by Laura Griffin
Another picture by my friend Laura. A picture I could have never shot from my seat.

After the event, was of course, the much discussed press conference and I won’t go into that because there’s videos of it and it is an hour and a half of the same with a bit of excitement in the middle with Kimbo Slice and Brett Rogers’ mini-scuffle. Gina Carano, is asked about her bandaged leg and shrugs, “Kaitlin got me,” but looking at the wraps smiles, “But it feels good. I like it.” Amazing. Weight-cutting issues aside, Carano’s a natural fighter, as the Low Blow made comparison to a young, lazy BJ Penn. Hopefully that painful but expected bruise gives her a bit more motivation.

I realize that folks at home, and a lot in the stands, are disappointed but maybe I wasn’t buying into the hype so my expectations were lower. Some fans believed that Kimbo, 2-0 at the time yet already being hailed a top contender, enough to feel he was served a can (with 24 fights which is a lot in MMA, glass jaw aside). When Thompson nearly beat Kimbo Slice, suddenly Kimbo is embarrassed by “some British dude” instead of a fighter, who trained very hard and needed this win. There’s no cage at Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA gym in Thousand Oaks, California where Kimbo trains. It wasn’t difficult for Thompson and his camp to formulate a strategy that involved the cage as a tool.

Kimbo Slice training for Nov.10th fight with EliteXC

Hopefully you’ve all calmed down and the nauseous feeling is out of your system and you can re-watch the event without saying ridiculous things like, “Cage Rage production is better,” because it isn’t. It wasn’t even that bad, in fact, it was pretty good in some parts and the fights were generally entertaining. Besides, blocking out the reasonable arguments for it being a success, or shrieking that it is the sport of a doomed empire (one could argue there are stronger factors in the fall of the American Empire) is something that we can leave to Fox News.