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Hughes, Miocic and Eye takeover Cleveland
As the UFC continues to count down the days until they officially commemorate the 20th anniversary of the promotion with UFC 167 in Las Vegas, several cities across the United States have been receiving visits from fighters with press events, scavenger hunts and other surprises in store as part of the three week long celebration.
On Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio, UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic, new women's bantamweight Jessica Eye and UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes descended on the city to help celebrate the upcoming anniversary with a media tour around town with stops by the famous Cleveland Clinic medical center, several radio shows in town, and a visit with the hometown Cleveland Browns as well.
The UFC allowed me to tag along on the day's adventures to see what exactly was happening on this 20th anniversary tour, and here's how it all went down.
Any day starting at 5:30am is no picnic so for the workers of the world that do that every Monday through Friday, you have my advance sympathies. A two hour drive to Cleveland followed where I finally arrived at the world famous Cleveland Clinic where the tour began. For those you that have never visited Cleveland or the clinic specifically, let me say this is something truly awe inspiring.
The Cleveland Clinic, first founded in 1921, is one of the largest private medical facilities in the world servicing patients from all 50 states as well as 100 nations from around the world. The demonstrations on Wednesday for the UFC fighters in attendance focused on the clinic's study of brain injuries in athletes as well as concussion studies they are currently conducting.
The first demonstration focused on a mouthpiece that they are developing at the clinic to help measure damage sustained by a fighter or any athlete that experiences trauma to the head. The idea is that the mouthpiece would capture real time information as an athlete experiences a blow to the head, and feed that information back to a computer so they could better understand what the brain goes through in those moments of trauma. The engineers and doctors at the clinic are using a hydraulic machine that literally pounds the side of a dummy's head with the information immediately submitted to computers to begin dissecting the information. The lead engineer on the program used to work for a car company where he investigated brain trauma from auto accidents, and now he's putting that knowledge to use for football players as well as fighters with this new technology.
UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes was especially interested in this subject, and asked some tough questions of the scientists — a few of which admittedly they struggled to answer, which lends credence to his line of inquiry. Hughes asked about blows to different parts of the head, and how that impact could affect a fighter differently — a punch straight to the nose may hurt a person differently than say a blow behind the ear even with the same blunt force used. Hughes also asked about a fighter's physical makeup and even DNA playing a factor in how they absorb the punishment. A strike landed at a certain speed in the exact same spot may knockout one fighter, while the other will walk forward like nothing ever happened.
Researches admitted that this is still groundbreaking research only started in 2008, and they will now be taking the information to Las Vegas where they will begin testing on fighters in real, live sparring to see how the mouthpiece works as well as the data they can gather from the process. Quite possibly the scariest statement learned during this seminar was the fact that doctors and scientists admitted that we still don't know much of anything about brain injuries and concussions, and when doctors are making assessments on the sidelines or during fights, it's really just up to a judgment call on how severe the injury just might be.
From that study, we moved into another lab where we saw a state of the art piece of equipment that helps patients in rehabilitation with their balance and hand-eye coordination. Miocic and Hughes participated in the drill, which consisted of a moving platform with a treadmill embedded that would literally run, jump and move as the fighters went through certain testing drills.
The other application exhibited during this visit was a new concussion study application the clinic developed for the iPad. The scientists involved with this project have an application that can be strapped to a patient while they conduct balance tests with patients, as well as several cognitive tests done on the iPad to help judge reaction time, memory and other issues that can happen with a concussion. The idea behind the program is to test athletes before competition begins, and then test them again after suffering a blow to the head that causes a concussion. That way they have a base of information for a person before and after a concussion to help understand the differences, but also judge when an athlete is truly fit enough to continue. In many cases right now as the scientists explained, a fighter or football player or any athlete for that matter could easily lie and say they aren't experiencing any symptoms of a concussion just to get back in the ring again. This test would show definitive proof whether or not they are performing at peak levels or still showing intense signs of a concussion.
It was once again reiterated in this testing, however, that doctors are still woefully walking in the dark when it comes to current understanding of concussions. The studies being conducted at the Cleveland Clinic are hoping to change that. And in case you're curious, Jessica Eye underwent the testing (all except the balance tests) and she returned great results with no concussion like syndromes. Considering she just fought a three round war with Sarah Kaufman less than two weeks ago, it's a good result for her to receive.
The doctors at the clinic were all very welcoming of the UFC fighters, especially hearing that both Miocic and Eye hailed from Cleveland and were making the hometown proud with recent performances. Time and again the doctors and staff members asked the fighters about the upcoming bouts, and when they would be competing again, and there seemed to be a real excitement in the air with their arrival.
As excited as the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic were to see the fighters on campus, it still paled in comparison to what Eye, Miocic and Hughes experienced once they arrived at the Cleveland Browns practice facilities after a brief stop for lunch.
One of the best parts of the day happened just before the tour began as a fan, who was tracking the UFC fighters movements via Twitter all day, found out they would be at the practice facility and was waiting for them to arrive. She was obviously a big supporter, who brought along pictures of each fighter so they could sign autographs for her. No one is still sure how she found the tour plans, but fans are absolutely dedicated and this one was determined to complete her own UFC scavenger hunt. Mission accomplished.
The Cleveland Browns hosted the UFC's 20th anniversary tour with a tour of their own around the practice facilities both inside and out, showcasing state of the art production used by NFL teams to get ready for gameday. The fighters and everybody along on the tour (myself included) were pretty much awe struck at the work that goes into a major NFL team. Numerous video rooms with projectors are set up for game viewing, while the video production team revealed a 70 to 80 hour work week during the season to help the team prepare for upcoming games and practices.
The on-site cafeteria was also pretty impressive as the players are allowed to eat before and after practices at no additional cost to them with dietary charts surrounding the area to remind players of what to eat, what to avoid and how many calories they should be capturing. Eye took special note of this process as she's an admitted food junkie in the sense that she's meticulous about her diet and nutrition. She relayed back to the team representatives just how important certain foods are to her training as well as those to avoid when getting ready for competition.
The rest of the tour through the facilities was interesting, but nothing showed the growth of the UFC more than the amount of employees from the Browns that seemed legitimately excited about having the fighters around that day. Different staff members stopped the fighters for pictures and treated them like rock stars, which was a fun sight to witness considering the popularity and appeal of the NFL teams they work with everyday. One staff member stopped Hughes while proclaiming that the two of them shared a similar background, which included graduating from Eastern Illinois University.
Miocic stopped by the local ESPN show, which has its own office and studio set up inside the Cleveland Browns facility, to talk about the day and his appearance with the team. Video cameras also followed the crew around all day while Browns photographers snapped picture after picture of the group of fighters decked out in Cleveland gear. If there was any question before arriving, it was certainly answered while we were there — the UFC has arrived on the mainstream and fans can be found in every corner of the world, even the NFL world.
Some of the staff members were literally gushing at the chance to meet the fighters, and the questions exchanged between the members of the organization and the competitors was interesting to hear. The fighters were curious about everything that happens inside a real NFL team, while the team representatives came back with tons of their own questions about what it takes to be a fighter as well as inquiries about their own training and video study that they do to get ready for a fight.
Also revealed on Wednesday was the announcement that both Miocic and Eye would be on the sidelines for this Sunday's game when the Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens, and the team will honor them with a special greeting and video screen shot during the game.
The biggest question throughout the entire day from the Cleveland Clinic to the Cleveland Browns stadium was one big one from fans, doctors, Browns representatives and everyone else loud enough to be heard — when is the UFC coming to Cleveland?
The UFC has hosted several shows in the state of Ohio in the past, most notably a series of cards for a few years in a row in Columbus, OH as part of the Arnold Classic festival that runs in the state every March. The UFC also traveled to Cincinnati for Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II, but it's been years since the promotion came to the Buckeye State and it appears Cleveland fans are on the verge of frenzy for a card to land there. With Miocic and Eye both hailing from Cleveland as well as UFC welterweight Matt Brown just two hours down the road in Columbus, the UFC doing a card in the city seems like a real possibility in 2014.
The day ended at the Browns facility as the fighters met with the players for a photo opportunity and a few footballs being tossed around. Notably on the day — Miocic can toss a pretty tight spiral while Eye's wide receiver abilities are solid, but she had a few drops which may cost her a spot on the starting roster.
As I exited the facility and headed back home again I was left with a few impressions of the fighters I just spent an entire day with on the road as they helped promote the sport. First off, for those that question Matt Hughes' new role as a 'name only' job, that couldn't be further from the truth. Time and again, Hughes was asking questions at the Cleveland Clinic about head injuries and concussions because one of his major duties at the UFC now is fighter safety.
Hughes later revealed to me in an interview that he's part of the team trying to develop newer gloves to stop the multitude of eye pokes that continue to plague the sport.
"I'm out there for fighter safety. I'm looking to make it safer," Hughes told FOX Sports. "I've already looked at the gloves we're using. I'd love to make the glove safer for both the puncher and the recipient, but how do you do that and not change the game? You can't have 16-ounce gloves out there and be able to grapple. I've looked at putting more curve in the gloves so there's not as many eye pokes. We don't know how that's going to happen, is it going to impede you from opening your hand up? We're just trying to make it safer."
Jessica Eye is personality personified and if she gets some time in front of the cameras or on the microphone, combined with her in cage performances she will be a star in the UFC. Eye bubbled over with excitement to be part of the UFC team during the 20th anniversary tour, and she was up front and boisterous with every questioned asked and outgoing with anyone that approached the fighters during the day. As for her teammate Stipe Miocic, he really is the gentle giant who didn't have a lot to say, but when he did he was personable and professional. He was asked dozens of times during the day about his next fight and while I did get a little sense of frustration from the Ohio native about his layoff after a June win over Roy Nelson, he never expressed any of that to the fans saying time and again he just hoped to fight soon and was excited to get back in there and compete.
All told the tour lasted the better part of seven hours in and around Cleveland and it was fun to see a city not known for MMA prove they can be a UFC town. It was enjoyable to see Hughes play the big brother to the new stars of the UFC, walking on the path he helped lay for them for so many years where he reigned as champion. If there was any question about his new role, Hughes is taking his job seriously and looks to truly improve the sport in the capacity that he serves.
The UFC 20th anniversary tour picked up in Detroit on Thursday with welterweight Matt Brown and lightweight Daron Cruickshank leading the festivities. The tour will continue all the way up to fight week in Las Vegas leading to UFC 167 where Georges St-Pierre faces Johny Hendricks in the main event.