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 * The new website is going to be another day or two as we work out tiny kinks. It’s pretty damn exciting, though.

* I spent the entire day writing biographies of famous boxers for another web content freelance job. It was surprisingly inspiring to write about a bunch of guys over the last 150 years or so who held a vocation that I would describe as the absolute opposite of having an office job.

I was especially inspired by the story of Jack Johnson, the son of two former slaves and the first African-American to win the World Heavyweight Title.  To read about his against-all-odds struggle against racism at the turn of the century was unbelievable – and I immediately Netflixed Ken Burn’s PBS documentary about him on Ben’s recommendation, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. I’ll tell you how it is.

And, since I like for everything to be about me, I’ll point out that in each and every one of the boxer bios I wrote today, there was this moment in each fighter’s career when they quit their job at the factory/farm/army base/post office and decided to take the plunge and be a professional boxer. Just like that. (I won’t mention that many of their lives ended in heartbreak and financial ruin.)

* My insomnia is getting worse and worse. And although it makes my mornings painful and takes away from my daytime production, I’m enjoying the surreal hours I spend in the dark on my computer, from about 3 AM to 6 AM, scheming and planning. It’s almost as if things are more possible in the middle of the night than in the light of day. It’s like I’ve replaced my literal nighttime dreams with my figurative career-aspiration dreams. I feel like some sort of freelance writer vampire in that regard – the person inside me who truly believes that I can start up and run my own business retreats to a coffin at sun-up, hissing at the light.

* In fourth grade, it was mandatory for everyone to take swimming lessons at the high school pool. I passed everything except for the diving part and, therefore, I failed gym class that quarter. To this day, it’s been absolutely impossible for me to dive into a body of water – something deep in my brain won’t let my body jump headfirst into something. And yes, even my ten-year-old self understood the blatantly obvious and lame metaphor about diving as it translated to my larger life.

* In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day
, I’d like to post a link to the speech Barak Obama gave yesterday in Atlanta.

After seeing newcomer Brett Cooper dominate a fighting veteran in the ring last weekend at the International Fight League Grand Prix, I called him up and talked to him about his win. He turned out to be a pretty interesting and very determined guy – a philosophy major who used to be a hockey player. He’s barely 20 and was discovered at a recent open tryout, which is almost unheard of. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the future.

You can read the article, From Tryout to Knockout, at the IFL homepage. Even if you’re not into mixed martial arts, it’s got some human interest stuff, or whatever. What I’m trying to say is, click the link and let’s get some traffic over there.

brett cooperThe International Fight League’s Grand Prix Finals went really, really well – I’ll go as far as saying that it was the best IFL event that I’ve attended so far. They gave out five individual championship belts – one for each weight class – with the biggest upset coming from the lightweight division, where underdog Ryan Shultz utterly pummeled the very talented undefeated pretty boy Chris Horodecki.

I scored a spot in the media section – the lone lady among a group of a couple of dozen tussled sports writers from various mixed martial arts sites and magazines. I was close enough to be able to hear the smack of the various kicks and punches, which I always appreciate, although also close enough that the cameraman was often standing right in front of me. I managed, though. Only one fight ended in a decision, which is good, and none of the fights were boring or unbalanced.

I especially enjoyed watching Matt Horwich, the strangely endearing Jesus-crazy middleweight, win the title by defeating Benji Raddich. I’ve been following Horowich since we attended a small show in Portland three years ago, and he improves so much with each fight that I can’t believe he’s the same kid, except that he still carries his Bible to the ring. He’s so weird and sincere that you just want to take him home and make him a sandwich or something.

Even with the five belts on the line, though, I was most intrigued by two of the preliminary bout fighters, Brett Cooper and Tim Kennedy. There’s something about seeing a rising star make his first big win that is more exciting to me than seeing a well-established fighter continuing to impress. Cooper (pictured above after winning, looking a bit shy and dazed) fought the dangerous and well-versed Rory Markham and got a TKO a minute into the second round – showing off a strong chin and a big heart. The IFL found him during their open tryouts, and everyone thought he was going to get killed by Markham in the ring (whether he knew it or not). It was great to watch him prove everyone wrong.

I was so impressed by Cooper that I’m planning an interview for later this week that, hopefully, Ben will pick up for the IFL website. I’ll let you know how that goes.

After the fights most everyone hung out at Mohegan Sun, the casino where the fights took place. Ben and I don’t do well with the crowds and smoking and loud clubs, though, so we headed back to the hotel for more laid-back drinks and snacks. As always, you can read Ben’s official weekend commentary here and his unofficial commentary here.

We headed back to Queens yesterday, where I finally got to spend some time with Ripley after her brush with death last week. She looks like a hobo cat because of all of her hair loss, but she’s healthy, energetic, and alert. And constantly hungry.

It’s been good to get back into my routine after almost two weeks away from home – as of today I’ll be back to regular blog updates and as of Wednesday I’ll be back in the office, returning to my regular combination of depressed and determined. Watch out world!

I’m writing from beautiful Mystic, Connecticut, where I’m accompanying Ben to the International Fight League’s Grand Prix. It’s a pretty wonderful glimpse into his life on the road – talking with the fighters in the hotel lobby, attending the weigh-in, staying up late writing up articles and getting up early to write articles. It’s a completely different life from my office job – and I can only imagine what it would be like to, oh, I don’t know, have a job I cared about.

The good news is that I scored another freelance job today and am now working on two big-ish projects during the day while Ben is down in the conference rooms doing TV interviews and radio commentary. If I score two or so more jobs in the coming weeks, I’ll even be able to break even on Ripley’s insane vet bills. God willing.

After a day of pecking away on our laptops, we headed to the weigh-in at Mohegan Sun, where the fights take place tomorrow night. It sounds pretty boring, but it’s pretty fun with Ben whispering color commentary to me about the fighters. A few of my favorite fighters, Chris Horodecki and Matt Horwich, are competing for belts, and I’m more than a little excited to see them in action tomorrow night. It’s always a bit sad to sit alone, but getting to see Ben ringside and typing furiously makes me proud enough not to care as much as I might.

My favorite part of the fights, though, is surprising males with my MMA knowledge. There’s nothing I relish more than dropping fighter names or submission names to people who think that I’m just another girlfriend of somebody who actually cares, dragged to the fights against my will. Sure, I might be a 5’4″ chick and just over 100 pounds, and, sure, I might be wearing a skirt and a shirt with kitties on it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what a gogoplata is.

My second favorite part of accompanying Ben to the fights is working out alongside the fighters in the hotel’s fitness center. This morning, while I was doing my 30-30 (30 minutes of cardio, 30 minutes of lifting) many of the fighters were busy on the treadmills, covered in their plastic sweat suits, cutting weight as fast as they could.

Every once in a while, one would step off, strip down to nothing, and weigh themselves to see how close they were to making weight. Not only have I now seen more than one of the fighters’ junk, but getting to see the fighters train and hearing them talk really gives me a better idea of who they really are and who to root for tomorrow night. I’m certainly not a sports fan who only likes the best athletes, period – I like to pick my favorite fighters based on the whole package. Pun intended.

What I’m saying is that I’m less likely to be won over by the fact that a fighter is an Army ranger, for instance, than by the fact that while cutting weight he outlined the entire plot of Lord of the Rings to his very patient trainer. Matt Horwich is another great example – he’s not the best fighter ever, but his intense sincerity, baffling Christianity and strange smile make it impossible for me to want him to lose at anything.

For more in-depth fight coverage, with Ben’s hilarious insights and inside information, he always blogs about his on-the-job experiences at The Fighting Life.

My favorite Patriots season ever was in 2001 – the first year that Tom Brady came out of nowhere to play quarterback and the first year that the Patriots won a Super Bowl, ever. There was so much drama – Bledose’s injury, Brady’s discovery, two insane playoff games (one played in almost white-out conditions). Not to mention that it was a true underdog sports success story, Boston’s very favorite kind of sports success story.

That year the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans, and from the day we knew we were going south for the championships, everyone in New England adopted a one-word battle cry: Jambalaya! Churches, Chain restaurants, and carwashes posted the word on their billboards. Drunk people screamed it from cars. Local newscasters signed off with it: Jambalaya!

Now Let’s fast-forward a few years to tonight, when the Patriots were playing what many called Super Bowl 41 and 1/2, against the Colts and the future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. It was the first time in NFL history when two teams met each other with such great season records, both undefeated (the Patriots 8-0, the Colts 7-0). The Colts beat them in their last meeting for a Super Bowl spot and in fact have beaten them the last three times they met.

To be sure, it was the first time I got to feel nervous about a football game all season – and I was very nervous. Weirdly, it was a good feeling. How would I do my part as a fervent and devoted fan, I wondered, in both good times and bad? The answer was simple. I would prepare Jambalaya! More than that, as the daughter of two Louisianan parents, I would make the tastiest, most authentic Jambalaya that anyone had ever eaten.

2 pounds chicken pieces (I use chicken breasts)
1 pound smoked sausage
3 Tablespoons oil or bacon drippings (I use olive oil)
1/2 cup each: onions, green pepper, green onions, celery
Minced garlic (to taste, I use a lot)
2 cups uncooked rice
4 cups boiling chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne pepper (this is somewhat spicy)
1 can diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (I like doing a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste)

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides along with the sausage in a Dutch oven along with a small amount of oil.
2. Add the veggies (onions, green pepper, green onions, celery), finely chopped, along with the rest of the oil. Cook until tender and translucent.
3. Stir in rice, broth, tomatoes, and seasoning.
4. Bring to a boil, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

(5. Sit down with a hot, steaming bowl, a huge moist wedge of cornbread, and the Patriots hat you have that you wear even though it makes your ears look funny. Watch the Patriots come from behind, as you love to watch them do, to win in the end, 24-20.)

silvaThe UFC traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the first time last night, where native Rich Franklin vied for the middleweight championship belt and Joe Rogan didn’t pass up a single chance to say the phrase “Hostile Territory” or to refer to Cincinnati as The Queen City. The stakes were high in The Queen City (now I’m doing it), and in my living room, the snacks were plentiful. Here are the highlights, according to me.

The Good

The highlight of the night for me wasn’t so much watching Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin fight so much as it was just watching Anderson Silva fight. Although Franklin looked much improved since their last meeting, Silva looked wonderful – technical, patient, creative, and with a huge bag of tricks to work with. Some of his high kicks and knees were so powerful they made me cringe, and his bobbing and weaving was, at times, Matrix-like. There were times, especially toward the end, when he looked like he was doing some rare combination move from Tekken 3, complete with spinning back fist.

Franklin was almost knocked out at the end of the first round, but made it into the first minutes of the second before Big John stopped the beating. Despite a lot of booing for Silva due to the hometown crowd, Franklin was surprisingly classy and respectful of Silva.

Silva was nothing less than a pleasure to watch and left me wondering who could possibly be a threat to him in his weight class right now. Perhaps if someone dropped down – perhaps by the name of “Han Denderson” — we could have a fight on our hands.

The Bad

I usually don’t like when a crowd boos a fight – it mostly happens because the two fighters are doing some serious groundwork that the crowd doesn’t recognize as exciting or interesting. But last night, as Tim Sylvia and Brandon Vera spent fourteen minutes hugging against a fence and one minute wildly swinging at each other, I had to agree with the jeers. Or, that is, I would have agreed with the jeers if I hadn’t been asleep during the third round and had to be shaken awake for the judges’ decision.

Too bad they couldn’t have decided that everyone lost, audience and the UFC included, because that’s what it felt like.

I’m not sure who to blame this one on. In between rounds you could hear Sylvia’s corner telling him to keep Vera up against the cage, more or less admitting that they were looking for a judges decision based on the lamest of the scoring aspects: octagon control.

But, on the other hand, the few times that Vera was given a chance to get something done outside of a boring, endless clinch, he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. He seemed slower than before his break from fighting, and also, at least from the position of his hands, looked terrified of getting knocked out.

I suppose it goes back to a question I often wonder about in MMA: is being an entertaining fighter as important as winning fights? Is it shameful for Sylvia to win a fight by throwing his weight against a guy and not doing much else, or is he just playing safe and smart? I’m not sure, but I am sure that my already-low opinion of Sylvia went way, way down. I’m also sure that Vera should stop hitting the ice cream (as Goldberg suggested during a weirder moment) and drop down a weight class where he belongs.

The Ugly

One of the better fights was the non-stop brawl between Kalib Starnes and Alan Belcher – at least until a doctor stoppage in round two, due a cut on Starnes’ forehead that was one of the grossest I’ve seen. I’m pretty sure that while he was examining it, the ringside doctor made a “Yucky!” face. And, when Starnes had a little outburst after the fight was stopped, he said, “The doctor said he saw my skull.” Yes, that is indeed yucky. It’s one of those moments when you are simply glad not to be bleeding profusely from a gaping gash in your head.

The only thing in UFC 77 that I found more visually disturbing than Starnes’ wound (that you could probably drive a compact car through) was the silly black and white knee braces that Sylvia was sporting. The more I see him fight, the more I think that he’s trying to be a more exciting fighter through haircut and wardrobe choices than through, I don’t know, actually punching and kicking people. He looked like a hugging, fence-pushing zebra, or, better yet, like he might expect a house to drop onto him.