The “UFC on FOX” open workouts took place at Church Street Boxing Gym in Lower Manhattan, another message that the UFC would like to be in New York City.
Hidden in the basement of a building in the financial district, Church Street Boxing has that classic gritty boxing gym feel, the walls adorned with thousands of pictures of current and former boxing champions like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquio.
If you looked closely you could see a few pictures of mixed martial arts fighters scattered throughout the bunch. There was a large poster for Baroni vs. Shamrock and a few other promotional posters here and there but this definitely felt like a boxing gym and MMA fighters were the outsiders.
A brash, loud mouthed, fast talking trainer began seeking the attention of the media and challenged MMA fighters and even the media.
"The media AND the MMA guys! I will simultaneously whoop their a--!" said Eric Kelly, a four time national boxing champion, two-time NY Golden Glove winner, and 2000 US Olympic Team alternate.
Kelly is also a senior boxing trainer at Church Street and he loves to talk. He was in the middle of a session with a client but couldn't resist the urge to take pot shots at the crew of MMA nerds with their fancy cameras and iPads. "You guys come here to fight or you come here to write? Fighting solves everything!"
Eric Kelly is part of a generation of boxers that came into the sport just a little too late. Just as boxing was falling apart because of corruption behind the scenes and a lack of charismatic contenders; mixed martial arts began to flourish.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has a fast paced, in-your-face style that’s new and the MTV raised, social media obsessed, generation has connected with.
The first fighters to show up were Jim Miller and Pat Barry.
Miller is a mild mannered, wrestling based lightweight fighter out of New Jersey who will be competing in the main event this Saturday night. Barry is a heavyweight fighter with a kickboxing background who is just as famous for his jovial personality as he is for his vicious leg kicks.
As the hours went by more fighters showed up, plodded their way through a workout, and answered questions that they had heard so many times it sounded as if their responses were scripted. It was starting to feel like an MMA gym though. Josh Koscheck, Jonny Hedricks, Rousimar Palhares, Alan Belcher, and Lavar Johnson all went through the motions and trained into the afternoon.
The workouts were supposed to end at 1pm. It was 12:45pm and Jim Miller's opponent, Nate Diaz, still hadn't showed up. Nate Diaz is the younger brother of former Strikeforce Welterweight champion Nick Diaz.
The Diaz brothers are famous for two reasons, the first being that they are unbelievable fighters. Both of them are tall and lanky with backgrounds in Gracie jiu-jitsu, though most of the time the Diaz brothers prefer to stand and trade punches.
The Diaz brothers don't like giving interviews, hate press responsibilities, flip off cameras, and their opponents.
We waited awhile for Nate Diaz.
During this time I started chatting with Eric Kelly about how he felt about MMA. He too seemed to realize that the business of boxing was corrupt. He talked about how good some MMA guys have gotten at boxing. He talked about Randy Couture "whoopin' that ass" when he fought pudgy pugilist James Toney. After a little while you could tell that Kelly didn't actually have anything against the sport of MMA. He actually seemed to hold it in a pretty high regard.
At 2 p.m., almost an hour and a half late, Nate Diaz finally showed up. He seemed exhausted from the press responsibilities but in no worse of a mood than he normally was.
Diaz stretched on the grappling mats for ten minutes and then he started to shadow box. All eyes were on him and there was an interesting mix of annoyance that he was so late and excitement that he was finally here.
As much as we hate to admit it, that is why we love Nate Diaz.
The interview after was unremarkable with Nate barely making eye contact while he slurred his way through his prepared answers. He apologized for making everyone wait and he shook everyone's hands.
Just like that it was over.
Once the cameras and press were gone the gym felt like a boxing gym again. The afternoon classes started and Eric Kelly went back to training a middle aged guy who looked like he was on his lunch break. "Whoop that ass!" he screamed at the guy as he was throwing a barrage of punches at a heavy bag. "Fighting solves everything!" Yes it does.
Luis J. Gomez is a freelancer, MMA analyst/enthusiast and stand up comic. Follow him on twitter @luisjgomez.