Don Frye: Supporting Regional MMA, and Still Building Fans of the Sport
Have you ever looked a legend square in the eye? Have you ever dined with a Predator? I am an MMA fan, and I have recently been humbled by an eye-opening experience.
Even the most pure fans can become another cog on the wheel—buying pay-per-views, t-shirts, predicting, and claiming fighters as their own. Sometimes fans lose sight of what really gripped them the first time they experienced MMA.
It was not a t-shirt (unless your first experience involved Tito Ortiz and Guy Mezger).
I have always been a fan...dating back to bare knuckles. I lost something along the way though, and this past week it found me again. A recent chain of events unfolded that rejuvenated my love for this sport.
It all started with a phone call. I was able to secure my personal holy grail of MMA experiences. I was set up to interview Otoku-Juku, "The man of men", The Predator...Don Frye.
It was supposed to be a simple fifteen minute interview, and an answered prayer for a life-long MMA fan. Sometimes, right when you think you have life by the horns it flips the script and lets you know how out of control you really are.
Don is an international hero, and a local legend where I live. It was Don and his one inch punch that really hooked me on MMA. The first time I saw the Predator fight, this guy walked through three fighters during one tournament in one night. He did so in less than four minutes total.
This guy is for real. It is obvious in his gameness and absolute warriors heart.
Don accepted my call, and come to find out we were less than 10 minutes away from each other. It turns out he is training in town for his upcoming fight with Muhammad Lawal at M-1 Global's Breakthrough. He was generous enough to invite me down to watch some training, and join him for a beer there after. Needless to say, I accepted.
Don was a complete gentlemen, and very open. I found him at the gym, introduced myself, and met his training partners. Then, he went right back to rolling.
After watching him practice, we proceeded to meet at a local restaurant and talk MMA. His partners joined us, and the discussion that unfolded was epic. While the conversation held some of the best quotes and hysterical moments, I am leaving it off the record.
This did not go as planned, and I found myself in uncharted waters. It wasn’t an interview anymore, so much as it had become establishing a rapport with an MMA legend.
Before leaving my house, I was rattled with nerves. My wife looked me in the eyes and told me to go be myself. My style wouldn’t allow me to settle for quotes. I wanted to get a real feel for this guy, and that doesn’t always happen when the mic is rolling.
Don took time out of his busy training schedule to speak with not only a writer, but a fan. I was not about to tarnish that opportunity with a simple Q and A.
Instead, we just talked—every topic from the President, family, the UFC Hall of Fame, Pride, and Brock Lesnar was discussed. Oh yeah, and a whole lot of ribbing went on at that table.
Don is an unconscionable chop-buster, and his partners are well practiced in the art as well. We owned that restaurant. The bellows of four men and one titan talking MMA, life, and laughing about jokes at each others expense permeated the room.
We might as well been Vikings...and though the surrounding villagers were nervous, I no longer was. It was priceless, and will forever be cherished as a high point of one fans' journey in this sport.
I explained I had never seen a live match. For guys who live in the gym, and a man who has traveled the world as a fighter, this was unheard of.
One of the guys, Rocco, stated he had a fight coming up that weekend at a fundraiser for Apex MMA. They said they could get me in, and to call them Saturday night. I finished the conversation, thanked them for their time, and we parted ways for the evening.
When Saturday arrived, I called a gentlemen and associate of Dons, Mr. Grady Gouveia. He confirmed my pending arrival at the event, and he told me the crowd was building fast. When I arrived at Apex MMA there was a line around the building. Had I arrived too late?
One call to Grady resulted in him coming out and leading me to the back door of the gym. My head was spinning with all the introductions and the atmosphere of the gym. Loud music, fans anxiously waiting outside, fighters getting taped up...it was surreal.
He led me to the floor where there was one boxing ring and one cage. He pointed behind the cage, and told me to pick my seat and to enjoy. Enjoy I did. This is where I was truly born again.
The event was so pure there sincerely are no words to describe it. The card kicked off with two youth grappling matches. There was nothing like hearing a gym of fans—standing room only—cheer on these youngsters as they performed their art.
Then came the big boys. With a rapid-fire approach, fights were fought with a ferocity and efficiency that was impressive. These fighters were well-trained and hungry. Amateurs fight for pride and the roar of the crowd. All the while, Don Frye looked on from upstairs. He helped build this.
Remember when you didn’t know the names? Remember when you watched fights to see a fight, not just to pick a winner? That’s as pure as it gets for the true fan.
I was taken back to '96 when I was a pure fan. Not to predict, or brag about a favorite fighter, just to see a fight. I found myself standing on the side of the cage cheering for amateurs like I was watching Frye vs. Takayama.
The MC reminded the fans to cheer for Don who was there to support the event. They did so, more than once. I was fortunate enough to catch him after the event and thank him once again for his charity and efforts.
The opportunity these fellas presented me was not just one of a writer who needed a topic. They brought me back, and reminded me of what I am really doing here.
As fans, we are the lifeblood of MMA. As fighters, these amateurs are the future. Apex MMA is one of hundreds of up-and-coming gyms nationwide that will feed the system of prospective fighters of tomorrow.
As fans, we owe it to Apex or any local MMA gym to go out and support them and their fighters. By doing so, we support our love for the sport. If we support them now, they become the future through our support...thus rewarding us with a strong sport built on strong local roots. This allows everyone to benefit from MMA.
Finally, I owe this all to Don Frye. It was him and his unique fighting mind that attracted me to this sport. It was him and his team that brought me back to where I belong today...on the fan side of things.
This isn't business, this is pleasure. I will never cross that line again.
Support the sport!