Tales From The Smokers: Once upon a time in Mexico with Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway, and Cain Velasquez
The regional combat sports arena can be a strange and unpredictable place. Almost every fighter that appears in this game has at least one adventure story that they will never forget in the early stages of the game. We enjoy documenting these stories here at Tales from Smokers. Today comes from Ryan Baderwho is fighting Corey Anderson hometown in Phoenix as part of the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Saturday at Bellator 268… So let’s go back to October 2007 for a little show with high expectations in Nogales, Mexico: SE Vale Tudo…
In retrospect, there were so many red flags. Meeting before the fight. Walking distance to the bus. Damn, the bus ride itself. Take your pick. After all, who is sending three naive children on foot across the US-Mexico border alone? Who promises a sold-out show with major sponsors at a major event and then kicks off a weekend fight like this is, a trio of Arizona wrestlers roaming the Nogales Desert with their gear slung over their shoulders like a tie?
Ah, the joys of regional MMA. In any case, none of them knew better then.
“This was our first year of fighting. We were young and crazy. We didn’t give a damn, ”says MMA veteran CB Dollaway. “But it was one of the strangest [experiences I’ve ever had]… “
Bellator Heavyweight Champion Ryan Bader and his fellows – recent Arizona State wrestling alumni Dollway and Kane Velasquez – may have been new to their MMA careers in the fall of 2007, but they’ve already seen a lot of absurdity in the short time they’ve taken. held in the competition. Job. In just his third month of professional fighting, Bader competed for a trifle during a downpour on a pier in the Cayman Islands. Since the fights were open air and the promoter bought a cheap vinyl canvas, the rainwater collected in the cage like a shallow stream.
“I went to kick, and it looked like I had rolled onto a home plate,” Bader recalls. “Then they would stop [the fight mid-round] and they would come with towels, dry them, and you would come again. ” When Bader won, strangling his opponent unconscious with an early triangle of arms, he effectively drowned the poor fellow in a pool of his own mud.
Was it surreal? Of course. But no more surreal than three weeks later, when his next opponent injured himself behind the scenes, hitting himself in the eye with his own tail.
If ever Bader needed to boost his confidence before a fight, view what the clown show certainly did the trick.
“It was just chaos in those days,” says Bader, who led a double life, working from 9 to 5, doing sales on weekdays.
“And Tommy Morrison was on that card, an HIV positive boxer. He was the main event. He had to fight in MMA and he just changed it, didn’t come out until he became boxing with little gloves. “
This was the reality of regional MMA. At the end of August, the scene was still growing out of its lawless roots. It still seemed like almost anything was possible on any given night, so an excursion south of the border just had to be common.
SE promoter Vale Tudo heavily sold to the guys what he called a dream event. He promised them a full house. Presumably Tecate was a sponsor. He argued that the fighters would be treated like kings. It wasn’t until the day of the weigh-in on the American side of the border came – and the fighters met before the competition – that Bader and his friends began to realize that they might have been sold a fake merchandise invoice.
“I will never forget that,” says Dollaway. “I just remember [the promoter] standing there, like: “Fight to the end! If you don’t fight until you get knocked out I’ll buy you a salary!“
“Were like, ‘What kind?!’says Bader. “It got you a little wrong, and you’re like, ‘Get out of here! Come on!’ But this is different [on the regional circuit]… It’s just the Wild West. … You can do whatever you want. If they don’t want to pay you, what are you going to do? “
The plan, as presented to him, looked something like this: on the morning of the event, Bader, Dollway and Velazquez had to walk from their hotel to cross the Mexican border with all their equipment. their backs and then hunt down a battered old bus about a mile out of the country that will take them to this place of supposed dream. None of the crew members spoke Spanish, not even the Mexican-American Velazquez, so the hike was a challenge in itself. And when they finally found their way, the trio didn’t take long to think about what the hell they actually signed up for.
“When we arrived, it looked like a prison,” says Bader.
“It was then that a lot of guys thought, ‘Hey dude.… we get paid ?! “
Is this the place of the supposed dream? It turned out to be an abandoned bullfighting ring. There was no roof. The fighters were thrown into stalls to warm up among the old feed and hay. And the ring itself? It was a sight to behold. “We drove over there and saw this little ring that looked like someone’s uncle, built in 1985 for our kids to play in the WWE,” says Bader. “There was something like a ring with three ropes, which if people don’t know, three ropes, they don’t hold you, especially during an MMA fight.”
As for the ropes, they were secondary to the biggest discovery of the day: canvas. And this is because there was no canvas at all.
“It was just plywood, which they dyed red, like a ballpoint paint,” recalls Dollaway. “No medical staff. So if something happened, the ring was as hard as the sidewalk – like they took the paint roller you used to roll the wall in your house and just painted it red. You could see the shards [sticking out] wood “.
“I remember well how CB and I thought, ‘God, I’m glad we are fighters, because if you were hit on that plywood, it didn’t work out,” says Bader.
“But we didn’t know any better either. Coming back now, I would say:We don’t.‘”
By this time, another weekend plot – Velazquez’s rival – experienced many twists and turns.
The reality check that inevitably greeted Velazquez’s potential opposition in those early days of his career has already become a joke on the team. Velazquez made the move to MMA earlier than Bader and Dollaway, but he owned – by far the least professional fights of the group, and not for lack of effort. “Cain went through six opponents,” recalls Dollway. “Guys signed or agreed to a fight, then looked at him and then left. In this battle, he passed through opponent after enemy after enemy. So, at the weigh-in, they tried to find someone. This guy’s father looked like “Yes, my son will fight him!” They were negotiating, I don’t know how much he was paid, I believe it was not much, but it looks like my father was going to take the money.
“But then the son saw Cain and thought: “Fuck you, dad! I’m out!!’“
However, the saga for the future UFC heavyweight champion is not over. Not at all. “So this luchador, he was like a 170-pound luchador, then he said he would fight him,” Bader recalls. “He already fought that night, and they took them in the back, and they were going to rewrite his contract, whatever, to fight Cain – and he heard them kind of cracking. [noises] comes from the back. From Thai pads. The guy saw Cain kick the Thai pads in the back, and he thought: ‘Nope !! I’m out.’“
Velazquez was the only one who did not compete that night.
To be honest, both of his opponents probably made the right call.
“I mean, can you blame them?” Dollway laughs.
The night of the battle itself was a predictable disaster. “Full house” apparently meant something different to this promoter – “There were probably seven people in this whole damn thing,” says Bader, “and virtually every promise made to the ASU fighters turned out to be a lie. But they came with a purpose and executed. Bader even turned unusual circumstances into an advantage.
“He lifted his boyfriend up and his hand was trapped – he just hit his head on a hard tree and he passed out,” says Dollaway. “It was scary then, because there was no medical staff, and Bader’s guy started to have convulsions. I was like, human…“
Dollway did clean shooting in the main event – luckily for his opponent, no clap – and the boys threw a party late into the night before running back across the border with a history of ages. Bader had red spots on his knees for at least a week.
Together, they assume they made less than a thousand dollars.
“I probably got lead poisoning from that fight,” jokes Bader.
“It was an experience, to put it mildly,” says Dollway. “I wouldn’t mind going back there to see it again.”
As it turns out, Nogales’ trial was one of the group’s last attempts at anonymity. It was also one of the last watershed moments that pushed head coach Velasquez, AKA frontman Javier Mendes, to go straight to the source and reach out to UFC President Dana White with a proposal. Shortly after the event, Velasquez hosted a private coaching session in front of the UFC leadership. Naturally, he made his Octagon debut the following spring with only two experienced fights on his resume. Less than three years later, he became the heavyweight champion. This 170 pound luchador was a really smart man.
Bader and Dollaway also found their way to Ultimate fighter just months after Mexico, when Bader won his season and Dollaway finished second alone.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Fourteen years later, the adventure remains a hilarious memory, even though the three husbands and fathers now find it strange to look back. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Bader. “You learn so much just by being able to go there and compete in different places where you have no idea what is going on. You go to a Bellator or UFC event, you know exactly what your schedule is. You go to fight in Mexico and they tell you to get on the bus and go to the bullfighting arena, and you are like, “Damn, I think we’re fighting a little too. Who knows if we will get the money? I hope we don’t get [kidnapped]…
“Looking back at all the little eccentric things we did, it’s just funny. But we had to do it because we had to take so many fights [as we could]… “
Both Bader and Dollway admit that they miss the more naive days at least a little. Just three college buddies with big dreams and no worries.
“Those days will never return,” says Dollaway.
None of them knew how quickly things would change. How could they? Bader definitely didn’t know that 14 years later, he would be headlining the Bellator show in his hometown surrounded by gold, a one-time two-time champion in pursuit of another two-belt dance. He didn’t know that Velazquez would become a legend in his own right, or that Dollway would play 21 games at the highest levels of the game.
“Fifteen years later, it felt like it was more like five,” says Dollaway.
“Lots of great times,” says Bader. “And it happened quickly.”
No, then they were just children. Small and crazy children. The rest was yet to come. All this rest will have to wait after a wild weekend in the Wild West.