UFC 254. Our final week on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi concluded with a title unification bout between Champion Khabib Numagomedov and interim title holder Justin Gaethje.
Unlike the previous four events, this one took place on local time—meaning the main card kicked off at 10pm in Abu Dhabi, 11am on the West Coast. After a few weeks of staying up overnight in order to be at our best for the broadcasts, we all adjusted to local time for this particular show.
The days preceding an event are filled with studying, preparation, notes, interviews, promotion and anticipation. The day of the event, as a broadcaster, my focus is on several things: making sure my information is as up to date as possible, editing and revising the scripts I wrote the day(s) before, memorizing said scripts, and getting ready to tell new stories efficiently to our viewers. But before the red lights turn on inside the arena, there’s a full day to get through…
YAS ISLAND IN ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
OCTOBER 24, 2020
MORNING OF THE FIGHT: COFFEE FIRST
8:30 AM I set my alarm to make sure I have a full morning to get myself together. I’m not a huge morning person (but then again I’m not really a night owl—I guess I’m a big midday person?). The W Abu Dhabi has been incredibly generous to us, and they know my love for coffee is real—so they’ve made sure my coffee bar is stacked. I make a double espresso and start checking fighters’ social media to see their latest posts.
9:30 AM The coffee’s kicked in and I got myself together to head downstairs for a new wristband confirming my covid-free status and a workout. On Fight Island everyone in the bubble is tested on an almost daily basis to ensure the safety of everyone involved with our events. The testing area looks like a sci-fi movie, from testers in full PPE that resembled hazmat suits, to a neon color-changing wall; it’s like another world.
9:45 AM Once I get my new wristband, I head to the gym to get a pre-show workout. On the road, I use the Peloton app (not an ad, I swear. I just love their workouts) and do a treadmill boot camp which mixes running and some weights. I don’t like to do anything crazy on fight days but I always try to get in a good sweat and at least a solid 30 minutes of cardio.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
10:45 AM Time for breakfast. And one of the best parts of Fight Island: the morning breakfast buffet. I’m not joking, when my colleagues and I made our lists of the best things about the trip, breakfast was never below #2 . I order green juice, eggs, fruit, and all the carbs I can find.
There are a few fighters at breakfast, so I’ll say some hellos, but I try to finish the questions and comments on Friday night. I believe in letting athletes’ mentality be dictated by them and those around them. They don’t need me asking any more questions the day they’re about to fight another person. They deserve their peace and I will always stand by that approach.
11:15 AM Back to the room to freshen up my work. I continue to go through tonight’s competitor’s social media posts and stories, and read as many updated-trustworthy-articles as I can. I’ll update my notes accordingly.
1:50 PM My scripts are finalized and sent off to be printed on note cards I can carry and write on as needed. If you see me on Fight Night, I run around with my notes, a folder full of additional notes, stats and bios, pens, and my cell phone like my life depends on it.
GETTING CAMERA READY
2:00 PM I try on a bunch of different outfits. I always plan my main outfit and a backup. Things can sometimes look different on camera or clash with my colleagues, so it’s important to always have a change that works better if needed. After that, I jump in the shower to get ready.
3:15 PM I head over to makeup with our ultra talented, ultra sweet artist Chris Geraldo.
4:00 PM It’s time to leave for the arena. I could technically walk, it’s really close, but it’s also around 100 degrees and quite humid on the island, so I’m very grateful for the air-conditioned vehicle provided.
4:15 PM Once I get into the arena, I get my notes in order, change into work clothes, and meet with my stage manager Jimmy. He’s already been given the locations for our various hits, so we go over all of our obligations to make sure we are on the same page.
4:50 PM One of my favorite parts of show day. Rehearsal. It sounds funny, but our production crew rehearses the main event from walkouts to the final glove touch. Everyone has fun with it, and once they wrap up those rehearsals, it’s time for me to jump in.
We rehearse all of my hits, so that my timing lines up with the fighters walking out. You’ll see me in different spots throughout the arena as the fighters head to the octagon, and each of them are meticulously planned. Our director Anthony Giordano and our producers pick locations, and we determine when a fighter should start making their way to the octagon. We aim for about 30 seconds, so it’s my goal to tell a story and make the viewers interested in the athlete that’s about to compete.
I always approach it like the viewers are new to the sport, and I’m giving them a reason to root for that particular person. It’s imperative I nail each report when the show is live, because it’s pretty set in stone in terms of movement and timing in rehearsal. I write and edit my scripts throughout the week to self-time them to about 30 seconds so the changes are minimal Saturday during this time. With no teleprompters, I work hard to have everything memorized perfectly. Note: I get a lot of questions asking me how I do so many hits off memory in one night—the key is writing your own scripts. It makes memorization much easier than learning someone else’s words.
GANG’S ALL HERE
5:15 PM The crew breaks which means it’s time for all of us to eat, get our makeup touch ups, and check-in with our ultra talented producers Mike Ricci and Zach Candito to go over any last minute notes. All of the broadcasters get along really well; so myself, Daniel Cormier, and Jon Anik will all hang out together along with Bruce Buffer and Michael Chiesa as we all put in the final prep for the show.
6:45 PM We head out to the octagon to get mic’ed up (shoutout to Ryan, Myles and team who make sure our audio is all set but also are such a pleasure to work with). Myself, Jon, and DC rehearse the show open.
WE ARE LIVE!
7:00 PM Prelims kick-off and after our opening stand-up together it’s off to the races. Throughout the night I have multiple reports, walk-out commentary, and locker room hits. I’m also conducting post-fight interviews with all the big winners from the evening, so during fights I’m taking notes and intently watching the action.
9:50 PM I get to wear another hat during the Pay-per-views, and that is Desk Host. I actually love hosting the “prelims desk” on ESPN, and for UFC 254 I’m joined by welterweight and commentator Michael Chiesa. We review and preview all the action of the night. It’s important for me to be able to show all of my skills, whether it be reporting, hosting, interviews or commentary. I approach everything with preparation and passion.
10 PM The UFC 254 Pay-per-view kicks off, and even though there is a small crowd of about 40 people inside the Flash Forum, the energy and electricity is definitely present inside the building. I balance hits and watching fights & interviews during this time.
THE MAIN EVENT
12:30 AM The Main Event walks between Khabib and Justin are about to kick off and I feel nervous. Why? I have no idea. I often get nervous during big fights, something about the atmosphere lends itself to this wild blend of nerves, anticipation, and pure joy.
12:50 AM The fight closes as Khabib finishes Gaethje via triangle choke, unifying the titles as the undisputed champion. He remains undefeated at 29-0 and shocks millions by removing his gloves and announcing his retirement from the sport.
After losing his father earlier this year, Khabib admitted it was difficult to compete without his lifelong coach and mentor. He promised his mother this would be his last one. The debate on whether he would really never fight again begins immediately.
1:10 AM I interview Justin Gaethje. He is such a professional—many people would avoid any type of media obligations and head back to the hotel with their team, and I would not blame them, but Justin told me this was part of the job. He speaks honestly about the fight, with a positive attitude about the future. It’s pretty amazing the way he handles himself after the loss that had to have broken at least a part of his heart. I have no doubt he will go right back to the gym and work on the things he felt were lacking.
1:27 AM My portion of the post-show concludes after one final hit about the GOATS of MMA. I give a five-way tie to Jones, Nunes, D. Johnson, GSP, and Khabib.
2:05 AM Time for the after-party! That’s right, room service and Brooklyn Nine-Nine on my laptop! I call my husband Joseph [Benavidez]. We talk about everything that happened— from my end of the evening, to the fight action, to little behind the scenes stories. Joseph is one of the world’s top UFC fighters–he’s literally ranked #1 in the world in his weight class, so he understands my day on so many levels. I love hearing his perspective and breakdown of the fight action when I come home from work. I’m excited to get home to him.
2something AM I finally head to bed, happy about another great show in the books, but always thinking about the things I will do better next time. I always try to end the night with gratitude. I feel so blessed to have this life. I know how special it is to be here on Fight Island and I don’t take it for granted. That’s why I give it my all every show, and I appreciate every opportunity.