I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down for an amazing lunch at Butcher and Singer to interview the UFC’s Uriah Hall, Demetrious Johnson and Karyn Bryant.
The meet and greet was scheduled to help kick off the Philadelphia leg of the UFC’s celebration of Black History Month in five cities across the U.S.
The fighters and Mrs. Bryant teamed up to visit several cities across the United States as they took part in community and Charitable events, media tours and other appearances.
The tour also made stops in New York, D.C., L.A. and Atlanta.
I can admit I was excited to grill Uriah Hall with questions, because I followed TUF season 17 closely, and his story and introduction to the world of MMA was quite entertaining.
We all gathered at one table for a more intimate, non-formal approach.
That made the afternoon and the interview process a bit more enjoyable, free flowing if I could describe it. We scrapped the more conventional sit at a table and hammer out questions.
We jumped right into it, and engaged on the reason the African American community in Philadelphia and other cities simply refuse to embrace mixed martial arts at it’s truest form.
“I hear when black folks watch UFC,” Johnson said, “they’re like ‘Y’all just laying on each other. That’s all ya’ll do. Rolling around. That’s all ya’ll doing.’ I don’t want to say they’re naïve. They’re just not educated yet about the sport.”
I asked Johnson, who was born in Kentucky, but raised in Washington state about his introduction to the sport.
“I played football to start out, but hated the idea of having to lose the game, when it may not have even been my fault.” I couldn’t grasp that part of it, so I joined the wrestling team.”
“I enjoyed the one-on-one combat of it all.”
Johnson says that ultimately, the first season of the Ultimate Fighter led him to where he is today.
“I started training to fight after watching the first season of TUF. I liked how they were in shape, I like how they are always healthy.”
“Reese Andy was the person who influenced me to sign up with AMC, and the rest is history from there.”
“Fighting for the UFC means everything to me, and even more as an African American.”
“I try to take care of myself, and conduct myself as an intelligent person,” Johnson said. “I try to pave a great path for people who want to do mixed martial arts. Hopefully, people when they get in the sport can say, ‘I want to be like Demetrius Johnson.’ ”
Uriah Hall jumped in from there.
“I know a lot of people don’t watch [MMA] in the black community,” Hall said.
I asked Hall why he felt that was. I explained that in my dealings with black people who may not like to watch or participate in it, they refer to it as barbaric in way.
I stated that many are turned off by having to workout or particpate in bare-foot.
Hall and Johnson both agreed.
“I think the black community is getting more into (MMA),” the 5-foot-3 Johnson said. “I think it it’s getting to the point where not just the black community, but everyone is watching it and getting more intrigued by it.”
Hall, who is of Jamaican origin, refers to the sport as ‘art.’
It’s art,” said the Jamaican-born Hall, who moved to Queens in his early teens. “You’re thinking on your feet. You have all these tools. You have your jiu-jitsu, your wrestling, your kickboxing, your boxing and you’re painting while you’re in there.”
I didn’t want to leave the wonderful Karyn Bryant out, and asked her how she felt as a black woman, covering a sport that is male dominated.
“I deal with my fair share of pundits and critics who try to judge me off my being a woman. All I can do is go out there and show them that I know what I’m talking about, and that I know the sport just as well as they do.”
Bryant was the one who first brought the idea of a Black History Month celebration to UFC president Dana White, who thought it would be a great initiative.
She pointed out the significant advantages that MMA and more importantly the UFC could benefit from having weekly and free viewing opportunties for black fans that wanted to follow the sport.
Bryant worked for Showtime Championship Boxing for several years before covering MMA, so she was able to give me great insight on her dealings in the mixed martial arts world.
She admitted that it’s very gratifying to be thought of as a role model to others who might want to follow her path.
“Sometimes, you’re a role model when you don’t even realize you are,” the FOX Sports and MMA H.E.A.T. broadcaster suggested. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Oh my god, it’s amazing to see a woman covering this sport. I didn’t think you’d get in the door.’ ”
I was intrigued by Uriah Hall and saved a good bulk of my questions for him. I grilled him about his experience on the Ultimate Fighter, and about his relationship with Dana White.
“I isolated myself because I was there for Business,” Hall said.
“I had one set focus,” and was able to “lean on myself to get me through.”
And on Dana White.
“Me and Dana are good man.” We’re good.”
Hall even admited to being bullied as a kid, and stated that it was the main reason he got into the martials arts in the first place. “He spoke of being in a great place in his career,” and stated he was “more focused on being technichally efficient in the sport, rather than being worried about knocking people out.”
We all agreed that MMA and most importantly, the UFC can become an action packed option for people of all races and color.