While in Stockton, I saw one moving billboard, and heard a few radio commercials, but found no real evidence there was a fight on Saturday night. I worried the arena would be half empty. Well, it ended up not being full, but what the crowd lacked in number they made up in volume. The people of Stockton are a proud bunch. Anytime the host, Double Jay, from local station 97.7 KWIN yells “209!” or “Stockton!” or “Who wants a shirt?” and a midget (little person?) skates around throwing t-shirts, everyone goes insane, rivaling the loudness of the crowd in Miami when Kimbo fought. As I mentioned before, they even have an island in the river named Rough and Ready. Then it comes as no surprise that EliteXC’s bloodiest fight would occur in the Stockton Arena, untelevised, before even the crowds had a chance to file in from the Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano autograph signing.
To start off the night, local fighter Brandon Tarn faces off with Drew Montgomery and proceeds to implement his lay and pray backup plan. I say backup plan because it seems to me the heavyweight Tarn gasses in the second and just takes Montgomery down, over and over. “Scooby Drew” counters more as Tarn tires, and opens up a cut on Tarn’s forehead midway through the third round. Desperate and probably blind with blood, Tarn double legs Montgomery, blood flowing out of his head onto the mat, onto Montgomery’s body, onto his face. Blood everywhere. Herb Dean steps in to have the doctor check the cut. Montgomery gets up and smears the blood all over himself, smiling. The crowd boos the stop, but cheers the bloodiness. They resume. Again Tarn takes Montgomery down and more blood gushes out. This time, the fight is stopped and Tarn retreats to his corner, Montgomery consoles him for losing due to a cut, and they get blood all over the posts and the cage. Awesome. I don’t see anyone wiping the cage. But there are people attending to the pool on the canvas.
As if a bloody match weren’t enough, in the second bout, Mike Cook screams as Carl Seumantafa takes him down. Right in front of me, the agony of his expression is cut short by Cook’s ability to reverse full mount and get to his feet. They trade and then Cook goes for a suplex when his knee buckles and the 265 pound Seumantafa lands on Cook.
Seumantafa turns and pegs Cook until the ref steps in. After a minute, Cook is sitting calmly on the canvas, pointing to his knee and it is clear he tore it when first taken down (hence the scream). More attempts to clean the blood from the first match continue as everyone readies for the Showtime broadcast.
I’m leaning around the post I’ve been assigned to shoot from and Jimmy Lennon Jr comes by and says, “Would you like me to get them to remove that post for you?” We have a short laugh and he steps into the cage to start the show. The fights go as they should. Wilson Reis wins by decision, he’s clearly unhappy with his lackluster performance. I watch his post fight interview with Tonya Evinger and she keeps saying “You dominated!” and Reis keeps shaking his head, saying he didn’t do well and he hopes to improve. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante destroys Canadian Travis Galbraith quickly. To his credit, Galbraith lasted the longest of any opponent Feijao’s had in EliteXC and still partied after. Antonio Silva wins the Heavyweight Title, “>everybody’s happy. Break time!
For the next half hour, I wander, getting shots of Phil Baroni, Kimbo Slice and his crew, $kala and Rara (who helped me get that awesome shot of the Diaz camp), and talking to the timekeeper. The CBS telecast gets underway and I run to get the walkouts, knowing that Shayna Baszler will emerge to some Bolt Thrower, wielding a guitar. Cristiane Santos (No, her last name isn’t actually hard to pronounce, but I guess EliteXC likes to hip up the names, like Feijao instead of Cavalcante) aka “Cris Cyborg” runs straight through, high fiving fans and running past the commission in excitement, only to be pulled back. While Baszler attempts the ankle lock, Anderson Silva is trying to also corner Cris, I can make out him saying a lot of stuff in Portuguese–Cristiane!–more stuff in Portuguese.
Later, during the fight, Santos drops Baszler and thinking the fight is over, mounts the cage in celebration. Feijao, Silva, and Nogueira are pointing behind her, telling her to turn around and continue fighting. It is so loud in the arena, Santos looks around happy but confused until Mazzagatti gets her to resume fighting. Santos brutally continues the beatdown from before and ends the fight again. The crowd goes wild.
Jimmy Lennon Jr. pumps up the crowd announcing Jake Shields, the fans in Stockton accept the San Franciscan as one of their own. 45 seconds of the minute long fight I spend with the cameraman in front of me, so I can’t shoot. Nick Thompson looks very disappointed, much like BJ Penn’s BJJ instructor Charuto did when Shields mounted him easily back in September 2007.
The ring girls walk out to dance on the apron. This girl is sporting a bandana around her forearm and dancing her little heart away. The photographers are busy checking to see if they even got any of that last short fight.
Before Nick Diaz comes out, DJ Double Jay, gets up and pumps up the crowd again, and though most are booing Thomas “Wildman” Denny as he runs out in his pink shorts, lots of people still stick their hands out and he gladly slaps them down the walkway. Diaz is somber and serious as usual. Cesar Gracie hands him a bottle of water and Nick washes his mouth and spits it out to the side of the cage. The spitwater gets all over the apron and onto the lens of Full Contact Fighter’s photographer, Keith Mills, who looks on in disgust, cleaning his camera with his shirt. It’s on now. The Nick Diaz everyone hoped to see shows up and from across the cage I can see Gina, Kimbo, and the other VIPs standing and cheering. After, Nick and Jake are outside the cage, Nick triumphantly re-announcing his training partner’s impressive win.
Main event is up and Scott Smith walks out fierce, Robbie Lawler walks out calm, dancing to the music, stretching out and grooving. Contrary to the Affliction show and inline with every other MMA event, ever, the crowd is cheering for the local fighter, Smith, and booing Lawler. Yay for blind geographical pride! Won’t recap the action but I admit I did not see the blood squirting out right away, since I had a backlit view of Lawler and Smith because they ended up close to me. Generally, it is easier to shoot fighters when they are on the opposite side of the cage from you. Anyway, I didn’t notice at first but I did hear some pitter patter and a few minutes after the fight I do my check. I look at my arms, no blood. Camera, no blood. Fight card, oh, a few spots. Notes, hey, some more spots. Damn it, there’s blood on my lens cloth. I check the photos. I see a series of squirty pictures, the one Ryan posted has the most Robbie in it, otherwise, it’s just a stream of blood and blurry bodies.
After Lawler demolishes Smith, the swing bout begins. David “Tarzan” Douglas from Nick Diaz’ camp and Marlon Mathias from Chute Boxe (he came along with Cris Cyborg) slug it out for what seems like twelve seconds. Mathias didn’t have a chance to even begin fighting and he’s on the ground in a heap. The last bout is an amazingly boring ground and pound match between two local heavyweights. Onward to the press conference!
At the press conference, everyone does their speeches, disappointment and gratitude from the losers, happiness and new challenges for the winners. As Head of Fight Operations Jeremy Lappen is speaking about Jake Shields’ skill, Lawler looks at Denny sitting next to him with a squished face, “Did you just fart?” Denny laughs and shrugs. Lawler waves his hand brushing the air, he and Smith both laugh.
Nick Thompson admits, “[Jake’s] mount is the best mount I’ve ever felt.” I want to drop a, “That’s what she said,” but I’m surrounded by microphones so I just giggle instead. I’ve heard similar sentiments before so I hope Shields keeps getting tough opponents and no one is too hard on Thompson for his loss. Nick Diaz thinks the crowd wasn’t cheering for him, but for the radio guy and just for Stockton in general. Despite his great performance, it is partially true. It’s all usual press conference talk, so just check out the video if you’re curious. As I’m leaving I see Anthony Johnson with his eye taped up. Ouch.
Somehow, I get invited to the VIP dinner party upstairs. I help myself to a plate of veggie lasagna and chat with Krissie Bacho, who writes for the Fight Network and Fox Sports and CombatLifestyle.com. We walk around the dinner party and I run up to Tonya Evinger to say hello. To my surprise, Tonya is partying hard with both Gina Carano and Tara LaRosa. That’s right, Gina Carano and Tara LaRosa. Not only that, Elaina Maxwell, Meisha Tate, Melissa Sherwood, and Shayna Baszler were there, all these women fighters, dancing and drinking together. Tjay Thompson of ICON Sport whispers, “Can you imagine Fedor, Arlovski, Randy Couture, top fighters dancing around like that?” Yes I can. And it would be surreal.
Stockton wouldn’t be Stockton without an unsanctioned brawl somewhere. And between the dinner and the afterparty, I stop at the swank Sheraton in hopes of catching some fighters chilling with cocktails but instead I find cops and broken glass. Apparently, a fight broke out and some people went through a plate glass window. I hope to find more details later. It was a very big window, the height of the first floor. There are some overturned fancy leather couches. Oh Stockton, I knew you wouldn’t disappoint.
Perhaps it’s my charm but I manage to shoot everyone at the party. Cesar Gracie, Jake Shields, Antonio Silva, Brett Rogers, Mike Kyle, Robbie Lawler, Nick Thompson’s lovely wife, Marlon Mathias, Cris Cyborg, Wilson Reis, Hector Lombard, Gilbert Melendez, Gina Carano, Bryan Caraway, Dennis Hallman, and so so many more people. Lucky for me, I get back to my hotel room at 2 am and find my memory card will only load the first ten photos and the rest? A digital mess. A jumble of green and pink and magenta lines, squares, artifacting. I’m heartbroken. Plus, I’m fucking tired. I really want to cry or something, but my “life partner” is editing post-fight interviews and I just can’t cry with Phil Baroni’s voice playing in the background. Just not possible.
I load the fight photos in for two hours, spanning six memory cards. I pick a few selects and crash at 4:30 am, get up at 8 am to pack up and catch my flight out of Sacramento, an hour away. At the airport, Cris Cyborg is dropped off by herself, so we help her through check-in. She’s on our short flight to Los Angeles, then off to Brazil.
I’m dumb and tired enough to leave my leatherman in my fanny pack. That gets confiscated by TSA and I’m rude about it. I know the agent won’t read this, but I’m sorry for being a jerk. I board. I pass out, drooling on myself until the plane lands at LAX. I whine some more about the lost photos to everyone waiting for their luggage. Two cab drivers refuse to take us because we have too much gear (or they are racist! J/K). When we finally get home, the driver says “How are you going to pay for all this heavy stuff?” and I assume he wants a bigger tip for the trouble. I tip him nicely, bring the luggage in, pat my dogs on their heads, and crash into my couch and sleep so deeply I dream about sleeping. Sweet relief. Two weeks of nonstop MMA action come to a quiet close.
Check out more the photos from Lawler vs Smith II here.