Decadence and Brooding at King of the Cage

Mainstream, Baby!

By Joe Hall Mar 11, 2005
Among the thousands of assignments I’ve handed out, King of the Cage’s effort in Cleveland did not, at first glance, appear all that challenging. In fact, for a reporter of Joe Hall’s talent and experience it seemed rather trivial. But I’m not one to let ability (or pride) get in the way of a quickly turned around fight report, so I goaded him into going.

Two weeks later, with nothing to show for the effort except several angry, garbled voice mails from someone that sounded like Hall (just drunker than normal), I’d all but given up. Then, just this Thursday, I found a series of scribbled-upon napkins (with accompanying illustrations) stuffed under my front door. We’ve done our best to assemble them here.

– Josh Gross, Editor, Sherdog.com

Josh,

Holy god, man. You guys at Sherdog have a hell of a lot of pull with King of the Cage. I’m sitting here in Cleveland, in the dark, trying to cover this show you sent me to.

What did you do to these people, Josh?

Whatever it was, they’re taking it out on me. I was told the participation of former Washington Redskin Michael Westbrook would make this show “the most talked about MMA event in the history of the sport.” I laughed loudly at that, but the internal hype produced by KOTC was so abundant I half-expected to be crammed into a press section with Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and CNN.

I could see it. Wolf Blitzer and Dave Anderson and Frank Deford would be there, all of us bumping elbows and spilling coffee and cursing madly at each other while documenting “history” in a high-powered media center chock full of Internet connections and recording devices.

The Convocation Center in downtown Cleveland would become the hub of the universe, decorated with an array of satellite dishes so large and powerful one could hammer a few buttons and speak directly with God. He’d want to know the results, too.

“Tell me, did it happen?”

“Yes, God, the two football players fought each other.”

“No. Not that, you idiot. Did Dan Bobish get poked in the eye again?”

“Oh. Yes he did, 30 seconds into the first round.”

“Hot damn! I knew it!”

Indeed, Josh, the pre-fight publicity for this show was tremendous by MMA standards. Features on Westbrook ran in several big newspapers, and he also appeared on the ESPN morning show “Cold Pizza.”

A good portion of the reports included information about Westbrook’s legitimate MMA training, and some even had factual information on the sport in general. While that was refreshing, they never strayed far from the conventional view of MMA as a spectacle, as if a guy running around on a field with a bunch of other guys all beating each other to death had quit that game and was now doing something really crazy.

The general feel of the coverage was along the lines of, “Well, Westbrook nearly beat his teammate to death in practice one time. Now that he’s quit football, the crazy bastard has turned to that cage fighting. I ain’t surprised.”

Plenty of football fans commented in their blogs about Westbrook’s foray into MMA. One Redskin fan, who’d read on the KOTC Web site about Westbrook’s fight against fellow former pro footballer Jarrod Bunch, said, “Wow, they make two shitty players sound awesome. We should sign them.”

All the pre-fight publicity strikes a cord of irony because the fight lineup is nothing special. I’m looking forward to a few undercard bouts, but I could care less if Westbrook, Bunch or Butterbean even show.

More than anything, Josh, I’ve been awaiting a seat beside Blitzer and Anderson and Deford in the press section. CNN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Sherdog.com all there in the same building, all recording history.

These thoughts of heavy anticipation, brought on by the KOTC hype machine, were running through my mind when I picked up my press pass an hour ago. I showed an usher that pass, and she led me down a flight of stairs. She stopped for a moment before we reached the arena floor, and my eyes wandered, looking for Blitzer and the gold-plated press section. “You can sit anywhere in these three rows,” she said.

“Huh? What?” I stammered.

“This is the press section, sir. This is where you sit.” I looked at the three rows she was pointing at, then turned to my left and looked for the cage. I found it, off in the distance, then turned back and looked at the press section.

I felt very bad about myself at that point, Josh. They had stationed the journalists off to the periphery, hidden us from the other humans as if we had warts on our noses and matted facial hair. The press section of lore had turned out to be a tiny corner of the arena, a few bad rows in the stands that were a football field away from the cage but right next to a loud local band.

I argued with the usher only briefly before I sat down. I didn’t see any other writers. Where was Blitzer and Deford? Did The Times forget to send Anderson? My inclination was to grab my computer, which was useless without a plug-in, find an exit and drive six hours straight back to Kentucky. I wondered whether my colleagues at CNN and Sports Illustrated had already hopped on planes home. Did they see this setup and just leave? What will The Times run in the morning? If all the journalists are gone, who will call in the results to God?

A moment of contemplation was needed to decide whether I could handle the burden of covering the show objectively. A beer vendor walked by me, and I must have looked depressed because he said, “Gawd, man. Cheer up.” He nudged me with his elbow, and a goofy grin came over his face as if he’d recently listened to an audiotape on the power of positive thinking. I told him not to touch me, then someone bought $42 of beer from him and the show started.
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