Behind the Scenes with Harley-Davidson at UFC 143

Duane Finley gets a Harley-Davidson lesson

HeavyMMA’s Duane Finley gets a fresh look from UFC sponsor

A journey into the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective …

I understand the opening sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense, but hopefully by the time this article is finished it will. When you make your living working in MMA media, you understand and appreciate the grind. The rigors of spending weeks away from home as you travel from event to event, staying in hotel rooms, splitting cab fares with other journos, all to produce the news and goings-on in this sport of ours.

This is the life when you work in MMA.

Earlier this month at UFC 143, I was given a unique opportunity to take a look at the sport from outside of the insulated shell of MMA media. As I settled into my cozy Indianapolis abode, fresh off of trekking to Nashville and Chicago, I received a last-minute invite from UFC sponsor Harley-Davidson to attend its UFC 143 event to unveil the latest model in its storied collection (the Seventy-Two is a beautiful machine, in case you were wondering). They rounded up a rag-tag collection of journalists from all corners of the publication world, and since this was a UFC experience, they wanted someone who covers the sport on the regular basis.

I was the chosen one.

As I made my way to Las Vegas for fight weekend, it began to settle into my mind how awkward this experience was going to be. It was a chance to see things from a different perspective. Working with other journalists who don’t cover the sport regularly and seeing what type of effect the world of MMA would have on them was something that kept me interested throughout. I wanted to see how our growing world of mixed martial arts appeared and was interpreted by writers who spend their time covering other beats and genres. In other words, it was my “A Christmas Carol” moment where I was ushered around a world I live in from an outside realm, minus the regret and “what could have been” moments.

As for Harley-Davidson and the UFC, it was a chance for me to dig into what makes the connection between the two companies work. The answer to that query is individuality. Harley prides its company on being “your” motorcycle. When I say this, I’m not meaning ownership of the bike, but rather a motorcycle that is made for you specifically. In a world of custom-made toys and chopper television shows, Harley-Davidson has the unique ability of appealing to individuality without branding itself as a “build-it-yourself” company. Don’t get me wrong, those options are available. But as I was told by the proprietor of the Las Vegas Harley dealership, the majority of its clients know what they want as soon as they see it and take their bike directly off the shop floor.

In the current landscape of professional mixed martial arts, the men and women who climb into the cage are walking into battle alone. All the training and hours in the gym prepare them for what they are about to face, but ultimately it is on the fighter to perform under the bright lights of the big stage. It is an individual sport, and if fighting wasn’t enough, the growing popularity of MMA has created the need for fighters to market themselves. They need to create their own unique brand, and what better example can be made than Harley-Davidson?

At the Las Vegas Harley-Davidson dealership the UFC rolled out the Octagon Nation bus for fans to meet UFC fighter Gray Maynard and two women’s MMA fighters on a collision course, Strikeforce’s 135-pound champion Miesha Tate and No. 1 contender Ronda Rousey.

A funny side note I heard continuously throughout this experience came in the palpable tension between the two women and how noticeable it was to everyone in the room. I was consistently asked, “Do they really not like each other?”

My answer: This isn’t pro wrestling, gents, and these ladies are fitting to settle this thing in a few weeks.

Getting out of the way of the Tate vs. Rousey beef, I took the opportunity to learn about Harley-Davidson’s “Harley Boot Camp” course. It is a tutorial for those of us who have never ridden a motorcycle, much less a “hog,” as they say. I’m happy to report I went from learning what makes a “softail” a softail to hitting fourth gear in no time. Granted, the motorcycle was fixtured in place, but I’m confident I could have ripped away without tipping or causing myself any serious injury. It was a unique experience and even though my wife will never let me own one, I definitely recommend the course to anyone interested in learning how to handle one of these fantastic machines.

Shortly after my learning experience in the world of air cooled engines and chopper handle bars, it was back into the abyss of my world. I met up for my scheduled appointments on future assignments, and felt a few moments of normalcy as I went about my interviews. All in all, it was a quiet night in Las Vegas if such a thing ever existed.

On the morning of fight day, the collective of journalists was chomping at the bit to get to the Mandalay Bay. Harley-Davidson had set up an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of how a UFC event gets put together. While most things were commonplace to me on this trip, this is where new doors were literally opened.

Of all the events I have covered and sat mere feet from the Octagon, never have I stepped foot inside of the cage where the very basis of my livelihood takes place. It was a very surreal experience to say the least, and one I took a few cherished moments to savor the experience. I knew in a matter of hours the seats would be filled and real warriors would be throwing four ounces of fury with bad intentions and just as I assumed, the action delivered.

Up-and-coming stars such as Dustin Poirier and Renan Barao had lights-out performances, and Fabricio Werdum and Roy Nelson put on a Fight of the Night throwdown. The main event between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz for the interim UFC welterweight title provided the most intrigue as the scores coming in from across the board seemed to match those of the journalists who were visiting the “Wild Wild West” world of MMA judging.  In the end, Condit walked out with a shiny new belt, a brand new Softail Slim and a date with Georges St-Pierre. I, on the other hand, mixed up my flight itinerary and had a date with several of the nation’s finest airports. While I sat and waited for my departure, I mentally recapped my weekend and realized motorcycle wheels were not the only “spinning sh**” I was privy to.

So long Las Vegas … see you soon.

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