TORONTO - When you’ve had that feeling, it is something you never forget.
The sound of a building vibrating in your chest and stomach, with your ribs shaking. The noise around you, some of it canned, some of it real, reverberating at the Air Canada Centre the way it might should the Maple Leafs ever play host to a playoff game here with the corporate types locked out.
That’s how it felt at UFC152 on a Toronto Saturday night. A crowd that didn’t seem very Toronto — loud, crude, ruckus — and a sport that doesn’t seem very Toronto, all dressed up for a night of mixed martial arts and all that can be Ultimate Fighting Championship.
This was my third experience with a sport I’m still not necessarily comfortable with but this felt so different from my first two journeys into UFC. The first time, at the Rogers Centre, the scene was the show. I sat in the football press box about a Chad Owens long return away from the caged Octagon, where the fights took place.
Everything seemed so distant, the fighters looked so small: Except on the enormous large screen built for the event. The big screen was compelling and almost hypnotic. You went to a live event, heard the crowd, and watched everything on television.
And still, it had some merit, some drama, something to keep you in your press box seat.
My second time live at UFC came in December for 140 at the ACC. The screen wasn’t as big. The press box seat seemed just as far away. The action from up high didn’t have the atmosphere of the Rogers Centre or a similar feel.
So here I am for the third time, finally getting a break of sorts from the good folks at the UFC. My seat is not in the press box, it’s at ringside, almost close enough to touch the fenced Octagon. And there is at least one similarity with all the big-time boxing I’ve covered.
No matter what you see on television it doesn’t compare to what you see live from ringside. No matter how many replays you see, how much commentary you hear, the feeling in the building, the sound of the punches, the facial expressions, the screams from the crowd, it is impossible not to be drawn in.
Even if you don’t care who wins.
Even if you have no rooting interest.
You somehow get grabbed and you’re invested in something you don’t care to be invested in — people you don’t know about, a fight that has texture and pace and a toughness about the athlete that is difficult to quantify.
This is what Las Vegas used to feel like when Mike Tyson would fight, when Marvin Hagler would fight, when Ray Leonard would fight, when you didn’t know if an ear would be bitten off or a helicopter man in a parachute would land ringside, or a fight would break out in the casino post-fight because one celebrity said the wrong thing to another. There was a mystery to every night of big time boxing, a texture to it all.
That was when being there mattered, when being seen was almost as important as what happened in the ring. The UFC is a little too crude to attract a high brow crowd. But that didn’t take away from the event, it probably adds to it.
Big events are at their best when they feel like big events. When there is certain feel. This sounded big, felt big, delivered in almost every conceivable way. There was enough early in a quiet ACC, enough on the undercard, enough on the pay-per-view portion to bring you back again.
There was, in no particular order Saturday night a quick, dramatic knockout, some ridiculous tight fights that turned back and forth and went the distance, a series, a moment, a piece of action in almost every fight that grabbed you and made you take notice.
It’s still not boxing for me — I don’t identify with the fighters the same way — but the cadence is completely different. It isn’t about one fight, one bout: It’s about one long night of violent entertainment.
Up close, it almost got me. Almost grabbed me. Entertained me. I don’t love it but I don’t dislike it anymore.
And when you can reach out and almost touch it, with your body shaking from the noise, your head spinning from all you’ve seen, you walk out surprisingly satisfied.