I know I promised that Part 3 would come along sooner but I lied. I wrote it all out and then scrapped it, realizing I had no interest in recounting the fights and want to get straight to the mess after KJ Noons’ title defense. Despite this being rather untimely, I already did it, so suffer through it. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2, for those who missed ’em.
Before I get into the groove of shooting the championship match, it’s over. Suddenly everyone’s rushing into the cage to congratulate Noons’ on his first title defense. I see TJ Thompson of Icon Sport walk up the cage with Diaz who looks to have just barely finished his medicals, still shirtless and wearing gloves.
When the UFC brought Sherk into the cage when BJ Penn won, it was Sherk, alone and in normal clothes. I surmise it is not a good idea to bring any fighter still full of adrenaline from his fight just minutes before to see another fighter whom he dislikes so dearly. From my lowly photographer’s position, I catch only feet. A lot of shouting tells me I’m missing out, so I hop on top of the EliteXC photographer’s box since he is now inside the cage shooting the obligatory belt shot. The moment I climb up, I hear “Fuck you!” and a chaotic brawl breaks out.
KJ Noons’ dad rushes forward and EliteXC employees rush to break up the mess. Nate pulls brother Nick back as KJ Noons’ BJJ instructor Baruch throws a body punch. Karl Noons Sr. is able to grab Nick by the neck and even ProElite chairman Doug DeLuca, is prying Noons Sr’s hands off Nick. Nate Diaz hops over the cage and runs out while Nick backs out of the open cage door. In traditional Diaz fashion, they flip the bird as they stomp backwards to the locker rooms. I want to run after Nick but I can’t get past the many security guards.
Since I’ve been home I’ve read countless “Diaz brothers are punks” stories. I watched the videos and see myself snapping wildly as the near-brawl breaks out. Even when I got a text message at the airport informing of another tense moment in front of the hotel, I can’t help but defend the Diaz brothers. Over the last year, I’ve come to know a lot of fighters. Fighters are by far, the nicest athlete-types I have ever met. I have an often more intimate view of fighters, one you can’t glean from hype shows or post-fight interviews, and I can tell you they’re generally good people and do deserve a bit more compassion.
More importantly, since I shot the melee (at four frames per second during the duration of the fray), I know that Nick and Nate didn’t throw any blows. I know the business in front of the hotel the next night was also not initiated by them. What do you think makes us automatically censure the Diaz brothers?
I watch EliteXC employees pick up torn leaves from Noons’ lei from the canvas.
Upon returning to the hotel, I upload photos from KJ Noons vs Yves Edwards as well as the post-fight madness and head to the afterparty. It is 1 am. I am very late. I get to club Fashion 45 and while most of it has dispersed, Dave Herman, Wayne Cole, Po’ai Suganuma, and KJ Noons are still there. I make the rounds.
I wish I had something cool to say about the party but it was just a party. Yes, it was fun–though the DJ seemed to have ADD and wouldn’t stick with a song for more than 30 seconds, which really annoyed me. Even more so when he stuck on the mid-nineties and I felt like I was watching an old “Now that’s what I call Hip Hop!” commercial on loop. Best was watching young fighter Chris Willems, who I’m sure is underage, drunkenly hug every staff member in sight to thank them for being so kind and supportive even in his loss.
Before I know it, it is 3:30 am and I head back and stay up all night uploading photos. When the sun rises, I stare at the beach longingly, then pack my bags.
I get myself on a fighter shuttle to the airport with Ninja Rua and a bruised Muhsin Corbbrey. I talk with Muhsin’s corner about their other fighters, Muhsin’s upcoming San Shou tournament in China, and I wish I knew what to say. It is really awkward. At the airport, I chat with Showtime staff about getting more spots around the cage for photographers and text back and forth with combatlifestyle.com owner/photographer Tracy Lee. The most adorable drug/agriculture-sniffing beagle comes by and sniffs my purse and camera kit.
Everyone boards. My aisle seat is fine, the little LCD TV, wonderful, my row buddy? Suicidal. I’m serious. I’m not making fun. In fact, I’m hoping he’s still alive and hopefully taking his sister’s advice to move back to O’ahu. My usual compassion for strangers is depleted. I am filled with a dull, circling pain since I cannot sleep and must listen to this man’s life story and opera singing (which is actually quite good). He was a nice man, talented, though still naive despite repeated defeats at the hands of the American judicial system.
The night ends with me, still exhausted, de-boarding the plane, getting my push cart stolen by some lady who simply threw a gaggle of words at me, swiping the cart in the confusion. Only been on the mainland for ten minutes and I miss Hawaii already.