by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy G4)

As UFC 100 rapidly approaches, not only are people in the sports industry paying homage, but in the entertainment industry as well.

Blair Herter, chief correspondent for G4 television’s X-Play and Attack of the Show series, is a life-long MMA fan and couldn’t wait to reminisce about the UFC’s past as well as chime in on its landmark event.

“They’ve definitely changed the rules, but for the most part, I’m most surprised that they just kept doing their thing and the world kind of evolved around them and bent to their will,” Herter told MMAWeekly.com about the rise of the UFC to mainstream success.

“Maybe I could see it going to 100, but nothing like it is now – doing a Wrestlemania type experience in Vegas. I never thought it would get to this point.”

Having been introduced to the UFC via video tape from a neighborhood friend, Herter looks back at the early era of the promotion and its first major superstar for getting him into the sport.

“Royce Gracie comes in wearing a gi, having a lot of respect for the art, and to look at him you would say there’s no way he should ever take any of these guys in a fight,” mused Herter. “He’s got this crazy style where for 15 minutes you may see him take a pounding, and then of a sudden he grabs the guy by the pinkie and submits him.

“I think for me, and for a lot of people, that was a really big era, because that it showed while it could be a brawl, it could be an art form and an actual sport.”

As for what he feels helped push MMA and the UFC from the underground to the mainstream, Herter credits the intervention of reality television for the change.

Thanks to The Ultimate Fighter, Herter feels that fans moved away from cheering for an individual discipline to actually caring about the fighter themselves and the overall skill sets they brought to the cage.

“Back in the day, if you were a jiu-jitsu guy, you pulled for the jiu-jitsu guy, and so it was just fighting style versus fighting style,” he said. “As the sport evolves and these kids are training in MMA and are having more evenly matched fights, you need to have a more personal relationship with these people.

“You need to care for them as people now, because styles are becoming so blurred now, so it’s not really about styles anymore. You need to have some sort of emotional connection, it’s super important.”

Not only is the fans connection to fighters important, but also the fighters’ willingness to remain attached to the fan base, unlike athletes in other sports such as football or basketball.

“At UFC 98 up in Montreal, I went to watch the weigh-ins, and Jon Jones was watching them, and one guy saw him walking down the stairs and he asked for a picture, and Jones said of course. He stood at the bottom of the stairs for an hour and a half with people lined up to take pictures with him,” recalled Herter.

“He wasn’t there to fight or promote anything, and he still did it. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. Not one time did he ever look over it or annoyed. Our athletes still do stuff like that, and I hope it never changes.”

Speaking of Jones, Herter feels he’s the one to watch on the undercard of the upcoming huge UFC 100 event on July 11 in Las Vegas.

“He’s one of the most exciting fighters we’ve seen in so long,” exclaimed Herter of Jones. “His takedowns are ridiculous; he takes people down backwards and upside down; and his strikes come from all these awkward angles where you think there’s no way they’re going to land.

“He’s a guy you go there to check out for sure. But, all these guys are all elite fighters in their own right, so the reason to get there early (for the prelims) is because every single fight is awesome.”

As for the main card, it’s the rematch for the UFC heavyweight championship between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir that Herter most has his eye on.

“I think either way, it’s going to be a turning point,” stated Herter. “If Lesnar loses, you’re going to see somebody who people thought was going to be unstoppable for the next fight years, get stopped; but if he wins you’re going to see a whole new era.

“If Lesnar wins then basically (UFC President Dana White) has got a very polarizing heavyweight champion, and it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes from here. I’m excited to talk about UFC 101, 102 and beyond, because I think things are going to change a lot.”