by Vince Horichi – Salt Lake Tribune
By Vince Horiuchi
The Salt Lake Tribune
Hank Weiss is remarkably calm considering that in about eight hours he is going to be put in a steel cage with another brute and might get pummeled and twisted beyond recognition.
It was Saturday, and the 28-year-old Orem man, who is known in the fighting ring as “The Vice,” was gearing up for his 34th Ultimate Combat Experience fight in an octagonally shaped, chain-link cage. His match, which he lost by a technical knockout in the first round, was in front of thousands of screaming fans at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
Yet just hours before, Weiss hardly seemed fazed.
“I love it. It’s just a huge rush,” said the light heavyweight, who also is a Brigham Young University student and an installer for an Orem alarm company. “I love hearing people scream my name. It doesn’t make me nervous to see all that, it just makes me more amped.”
Of course after 33 fights (he’s 26-7) and just three years of grappling opponents in a sometimes bloody, chant-filled arena, Weiss is considered the old pro in this game in which fighters use several disciplines like boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu to beat their opponent.
In the last five or six years, Ultimate Fighting – also known as mixed martial arts or no-hold-barred fighting – has been transformed into a newer and supposedly safer form of sport and now has
Lord Weiss glares at his opponent, Derek Downey, seconds before their match Saturday night at the Delta Center. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)
its own organization in Utah, the Ultimate Combat Experience (UCE)
According to UCE fight promoter Mike Stidham, the sport has fiercely grown in this state, putting Utah near the top in attendance figures in this country. There is a UCE fighting match every Saturday night at a Sandy nightclub, Sandy Station, and there is a television show every Sunday at 11 p.m. on KPNZ Channel 24 that broadcasts previous matches. Then they have their championship finals at the Delta Center every sixth week. Saturday night’s finals marked the fifth time the fights were held there. The next Delta Center event will be on Feb. 10.
“It’s far more exciting than boxing. There is far more action to it,” Stidham said. “For the naysayers who think it’s brutal, my response is that it’s a sport without a ball. It’s no more brutal than football or hockey.”
The sport of Ultimate Fighting, where two fighters punch, kick, arm-lock and wrestle their opponent into submission, was a controversial style that eventually was banned in nearly all states in the early 1990s.
Since then, the biggest mixed martial arts fighting organization, the all-professional Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), changed its tune and implemented rules to make the sport safer and therefore legal.
Now, the rounds are timed to three minutes. There are individual weight classes (before,they would pit bigger fighters who would pummel smaller opponents), and certain moves are illegal, including striking a downed opponent.
“Anything you could imagine that would result in permanent damage has been made illegal,” Stidham said. “It’s like the evolution of football where they used to allow clipping and didn’t have helmets.”
Stidham started the UCE three years ago, and it’s now flooded with nearly all Utah fighters from Logan to St. George – more than 300, many of whom moved from other states to fight here.
“The best training in the states is in Salt Lake City because of all the gyms that train and all the fighters who live here,” said Kyacey Uscola, aka “Ice Cold,” a 24-year-old Cottonwood Heights light heavyweight who moved here from Rupert, Idaho, a month ago to fight. He estimates there are some seven or eight gyms in the Wasatch Front that train UCE fighters.
“It’s definitely the ultimate sport in conditioning and getting your mind and your body right,” he said.
But despite measures to make the sport safer, injuries do happen.
West Valley City fighter Justin Cunningham once “got hit so hard in the eye socket, they actually had to go into surgery,” said 22-year-old fighter Oliver Bradstreet of West Valley City. “They had to restructure some of the bones in his face and they had to pull his eyeball out to do that. And then he had a metal plate put behind his head.”
Cunningham was expected to go back to fighting after a year-long recovery but instead was killed near Alpine in October while trying to save his dog in a river.
Bradstreet, aka “Menace,” doesn’t let the potential for injury rattle him.
“There is a lot of nervousness and anxiety going into [a match], then I get worked up. And as soon as it starts, I just get calm,” Bradstreet says about the fear of getting injured. “Everything kind of zones out, and you focus on what you do to your opponent. A lot of times, I don’t even remember what happens.
“You’re sort of fighting for your life, so to speak,” said the fighter, who won his bout Saturday with a technical knockout in the first round.
Yes, the UCE has its grandiose fighter entrances, its busty “UCE Girls” in between rounds, and its own brand of mouthy characters like the ones in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. But all the UCE fighters insist their sport is legitimate and not staged.
It’s Saturday, and Weiss – a family man with four kids and a Webelos leader in his Mormon ward – is prepping his mind and body to not only fight an opponent before thousands of screaming fans, but a fighter he also says is a dear friend.
That’s one of the disadvantages of fighting in a new and burgeoning sport that starts with just a handful of players.
“We’re pretty good friends, but we ended up in the finals,” he said. “I would rather beat up someone else. But to me, it’s an honor in a sense. We’re both from that original group of fighters who started this, and one of us is going to walk away with the championships. Whoever that is, it will still be from that original group. It’ll be fun.”
Champions are crowned
Results of Saturday’s Ultimate Combat Experience Championships at the Delta Center:
l Exhibition Bout No. 1 Justin “Big J” Wright beat Demarcus “Delicioso” Jones in the second round by submission.
l Championship Bout No. 1 Matt “Mother May I” May beat John “Blade” Sharp by unanimous decision.
l Championship Bout No. 2 Chad “Little Poop” Carter beat James “J Mac” McFadden in the second round by submission.
l Championship Bout No. 3 James “Pocket Hercules” Cottrell beat Casey “Busta Phatty” Beckstead by unanimous decision.
l Championship Bout No. 4 Oliver “Menace” Bradstreet beat Josh “Buck and a Half” Buck
Josh Buck lies on mat, as Oliver Bradstreet, celebrates his win Saturday night at the Delta Center. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)
with a TKO at end of the first round.
l Championship Bout No. 5 Steve “Razor” Sharp beat Matt “Mullet” Raines in the first round with a tap out.
l Championship Bout No. 6 Donny “Sleave” Raines beat Ray “Relentless” Perales in the first round by submission.
l Championship Bout No. 7 Jake “Snake” Paul beat Mike “Big Mike” Gates by unanimous decision.
l Championship Bout No. 8 Dave “Jom-Jom” Anderton beat Sika “Sika” Ripley in the first round by submission.
l Championship Bout No. 9 Derek “Danger” Downey beat Hank “The Vice” Weiss in the first round with a TKO
l Derek Downey won Most Outstanding Fighter of the Tournament