Jets head coach Rex Ryan, 49ers stud linebacker Patrick Willis, Eagles pass rush phenom Trent Cole, and I walked through the South Florida crowd at the recent Strikeforce event very much looking forward to a perfect escape from our recent rush of football overload.
Willis was with me as a true believer in how MMA has helped him in his sport. Last year he signed up for and made it through a month of MMAthletics—a workout I designed and partnered with Randy Couture that uses MMA workouts to benefit pro athletes based on their position and sport. Cole came along to see what it was all about. He has since converted over and now wants to train.
But the one who stood out the most, by far, was the always entertaining Jets head coach, who was along for the ride to meet some of the trainers we use (they were there cornering Jay Hieron). Ryan wanted to meet some of our guys, as he is planning to send us a few players who—if they are going to make it on the mean streets of an NFL Sunday—need a healthy dose of a fighter’s mentality.
Ryan stood out like a haystack among a few needles, as the head coach of the Jets meandered through a sea of Dolphins fans. Plus, at 340 pounds or so, he’s difficult to miss. The fans, having spotted Ryan, were terrific in throwing friendly—yet respectful—boasts and barbs his way. The big, jolly guy joked back and, at first, sports was exactly where it was supposed to be—a fun and good-natured territorial affair. It was great, until…
As we walked past one particular drunken idiot, one fan decided he wanted to be tough like the trained combatants in the cage, and he unleashed a tirade on Ryan that we believed could only be a joke, a set-up by a friend. It was so outrageous, so outlandish, so… not sure words can describe it.
To paraphrase, albeit pretty damn closely, our drunken moron unleashed hate usually reserved for someone who stole your dog and made a run at your old lady.
“Hey, I f-@%$#-ing hate you! I f-@%$#-ing hate you, you piece of shit! You’re a piece of shit. I hope you die, you f-@%$#-ing fat piece of crap!”
Great, this was Ryan’s first ever walk through an MMA event and this would forever be his first memory. Ryan actually took a step toward Senor Jagoff and I then had the pleasure of stepping in front of him and, well, er, um…I pretty much got to second base with him as I placed my hands in front of him and braced myself to help ensure he didn’t kill his assailant. We defused the situation for the time being but that was unfortunately short-lived.
An hour later this same piece of garbage actually sought out where we were sitting the front row—and rushed Ryan yet again. Once again, the drunkard unleashed another wave of profanitylaced diatribe.
Folks, in all my years of covering sports, I have NEVER witnessed a fan crossing the line so grossly. It was damn near surreal. Upon seeing him make another run, I was unfortunately placed in the position where I had to “remove” him from our area and security and police simply watched before the yellow jackets and uniforms jumped on and restrained me, not this drunken ass. It was unfortunate to say the least.
Again, Ryan and our NFL players were left with their jaws dropped. But the kicker was this: security, acknowledging that this fan was wasted and crossed the line, refused to eject him from this Strikeforce event. Not only did they not remove him, when it was time to leave, they escorted us out to prevent any further problems but LED US RIGHT TO THE SAME GUY!
He started it again and Ryan flipped this asshole the one-finger salute. The bird was captured on camera phone, broadcast everywhere, and Ryan was hit with a $50,000 fine by the New York Jets.
So why am I writing about this?
I wasn’t aware of how the mainstream world viewed our crowd and MMA society until this incident took place. In defending Ryan on several national radio and TV shows, as well as conducting firsthand- account interviews with a slew of New York City newspapers, I was slapped with the same exact question by nearly each interviewer: “Shouldn’t Ryan have known better than to be in a crowd with THOSE kinds of fans?”
Huh? What? Those kinds of fans?
“What do you mean by that?” I asked to the first two reporters who threw that question at me. Apparently, those who aren’t mainstream MMA fans liken us to a bunch of drunken, violent, and hate-filled rowdies who are looking to emulate in the crowd what they see in the cage.
I know how our crowds used to be, but those days I believed were over. I haven’t seen an incident at a fight in, well, I can’t remember when.
The truth is, our fans are some of the greatest in sports. They are respectful and shower love on those who win AND lose, which is more than I can say for most team sports.
I retorted that our fans are much less likely to pick a fight than those at the BCS National title game where college kids tailgate all day and the two sides are clearly as passionate as the Hatfields and the McCoys.
I was truly saddened that this one person could have such a negative impact on all of us, but it should also serve as a wakeup call that we are still on shaky ground to too many people.
It is up to us to change this perception. When you see a fan lose control or cross the line or even begin to cross the line, remember they may be turning away what could be brand new fans. Resist the urge to choke them out, and simply get security and ask that they escort these pieces of bad PR out of the building. As hard as it may be, just get them out so the rest of us can treat new fans to the ultimate experience in combat sports.
Oh, and in this meantime, I say we get the Save Our Rex collection up and running.