By Thomas Gerbasi
You know you’ve made it when the stars of stage and screen begin showing up for your events. But unlike the celebrities in attendance at other sporting events, who are there simply to promote a new film, album, or product, or to be seen by photographers, the celebrity fans who show up to see the UFC are just that – fans. And they’re as hardcore as it gets.
“I was watching back in the Dan Severn days and back when Royce Gracie was runnin’ things,” said Grammy-award winning recording artist Everlast. “Every UFC that I’m within a three hour radius of, I’m there. I love it.”
And despite the fact that the UFC is everywhere these days, most of these true fans were there from the beginning back in 1993. It was that first event that intrigued them and kept them hooked for the next 15-plus years.
“I was so intrigued by what this was, and I remember thinking ‘oh my God, it’s about time,’” said Chris Meloni, star of the hit television series Law & Order: SVU and Oz. “I had always heard the Kung Fu guys saying they were better than the Muay Thai guys, and finally you had a proving ground. As it evolved, and the time limits came in, and then personalities started to emerge, then it really started to coalesce into something I knew in my gut was gonna be huge.”
For a lot of people, it was the mixture of different combat sports styles that made the UFC so intriguing, and having boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, Muay Thai, karate, and judo all in one sport was the key factor that hooked them for life.
“It’s not just boxing, it’s not just jiu-jitsu, it’s not just kickboxing – it literally is everything in one, and anything can happen,” said Laura Prepon, a familiar face at Octagonside who has been in America’s living rooms as the star of That 70’s Show and October Road. “I just watched a boxing match a few weeks ago and I just kept wanting them to take each other down and submit each other.”
Statements like that are common these days, and even an actor like Sylvester Stallone, who is so closely associated with boxing due to his role as the fistic icon Rocky, admits that they’re legit.
“I think it’s replaced boxing – which breaks my heart - but that’s a fact of life because there’s a certain kind of vitality and competitiveness and a willingness to gamble that a lot of boxers, when they reach a certain echelon, won’t, so yes, I’m a big fan,” said Stallone of the UFC.
And when it comes down to it, the sport is all about the athletes, and the UFC is packed with the best of the best. For proof, look no further than action movie hero Jason Statham, who, as a member of Britain’s National Diving Squad for ten years who finished 12th in the diving World Championships in 1992, can appreciate what goes into making a world-class mixed martial artist even more than most.
“I just think they’re the ultimate athletes, in every sense of the word,” said Statham. “I was a competitive athlete for a few years, and I understand the psychology that goes into trying to stay calm when you need to, but this is a completely different level. These guys are looking at a world of pain and they’ve got to try and have the confidence to overwhelm someone who’s out there to absolutely destroy them and make them pay. So they have to be able to remain calm and fully confident, and be in such physical shape to play that game of human chess. And when it goes to the ground, it is a question of who leaves themselves vulnerable by trying to go for the win, because when you go for the win, at that point you are, in some ways, leaving yourself open for a counter. I’ve only messed around and rolled around, and I’ve seen how exhausting it is to wrestle, and I know how painful a punch and a kick can be when you’re on the receiving end of one. They’re the fittest of the fit, and to me, these fighters are the warriors of today, the real gladiators.”
Or as Ms. Prepon puts it, “There’s a certain kind of honor and integrity with the fighters, and these guys are machines. I don’t think Kobe Bryant could go three five minute rounds.”
Celebrity Fans Chime in on the Appeal of the UFC
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - You know you’ve made it when the stars of stage and screen begin showing up for your events. But unlike the celebrities in attendance at other sporting events, who are there simply to promote a new film, album, or product, or to be seen by photographers, the celebrity fans who show up to see the UFC are just that – fans. And they’re as hardcore as it gets.