Traveling to a foreign locale can be stressful for a fighter. No one knows this better than former UFC champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Between them, the two MMA legends have fought outside of the United States 10 times, and made dozens of promotional trips to support the sport.
Jet lag? An issue.
Unfamiliar tongues and strange foods? Those can be issues as well.
Those are the basics. But there are also some potential issues that the UFC community needs to know about heading into Japan for UFC 144 this weekend. Luckily, Bleacher Report sat down with both men and had them play an unusual role—travel guide.
In the old days, before the Fertitta brothers took over the UFC, money was scarce. The sport had been put on ice by aggressive politicians and their friends in the cable companies. Things were so bad that the UFC, now a staple of cable television, couldn't even be sold to consenting adults on pay per view.
In these trying times, everyone made sacrifices. Sometimes fighters and their trainers were even forced to take the bus to shows; whatever it took to make it happen. So imagine Chuck and Tito's surprise when they rode in the Fertittas' private jet for the first time.
"It was me and Jens Pulver. We flew over there and it was awesome. It was fun to see the Pride event as it was," Ortiz remembers. "We had a great time."
Liddell puts it simply: "It was huge. It was a big change."
Chuck in the stands. Presumably not yelling too loud.
The crowds in Japan are legendary. Tens of thousands pack mega arenas to watch the fights. But don't mistake the sheer size of the crowd with the boisterousness we associate with UFC events back home. The Japanese fans are notorious for watching the contests in reverential silence. Chuck Liddell made that mistake when he was in attendance at a Pride event. Voices carry.
"You'd think they'd be crazy loud. It just isn't when the fights are going on. They're very passionate fans, but it's part of their culture not to scream. They're not very loud," Liddell said. "I remember watching Henderson fight and I was screaming for him, maybe 50 yards back up in the bleachers. My buddy taps me and says 'take your headphones off.' Oops. I was the only one screaming and people (ringside) could hear every word I was saying."
In the cage, it's important to tune those voices, or lack thereof, out and keep your mind on your mission.
"Just stay focused," Ortiz advises. "Don't let the fans, them being very quiet, kind of overtake your mind. Go out and perform."
After the fights, why not hit the club? Tokyo's Roppongi district is legendary for its debauchery. But, as Tito found out one night, do be prepared for anything and everything. Even a damsel in distress.
"I actually saved a girl's life there. No one knows about this," Ortiz said. "After I fought Wanderlei Silva, we were at one of the clubs, Gas Panic, and there were stairs that you walked down and there was no light. I saw a girl unconscious on the stairs and no one even touched her. I picked her up and carried her up the stairs and laid her down. My wife at the time, my ex-wife now, said 'Tito, you have blood all over you.' I looked at my hands and they had blood all over them. I said 'holy shit.' I went and washed it off, because you never know what people have... It was an instinct I have to protect people. I helped her when no one else did. I asked security why they didn't help her and they turned their back on me. They didn't care. I'll never forget that."
Don't get it twisted. There's much more to Japan than wild night clubs and vending machines selling used girl's underwear. For a martial arts guru like Chuck Liddell, there's plenty of culture to soak up.
"We ran around Japan a little bit. It was a lot of fun. Even learning how to get around on the subway. It was interesting."
Ortiz echoes Liddell's sentiments. Just getting out and seeing the masses of people is worth risking some awkward moments for some unforgettable memories.
"In Japan there's a place called the 'four corners of the world.' When the lights change, at one time there can be 2,500 people crossing the street. All you could see were 5'5" heads of black hair as far as the eye could see."
"The bars and restaurants are open pretty much 24/7. It's nice and clean. There's no graffiti on the streets, no trash on the streets. And it's nice to get a cold beer out of a vending machine. It's a little weird coming from the United States and seeing that. It was always a great time."
Before Chuck Liddell came to Japan, he didn't care much for sushi. After, it was one of his staples coming off of a weight cut. Ortiz says the Japanese are pretty smart about eating the right foods to fuel you.
"After you make weight, for food intake you're probably in one of the best places in the world to be," Ortiz said. "Rice and fish—the body burns the best with those replacements in your body after making the weight."