Sunday was special. Not because there was another installment of the Underground Combat League –New York City’s ten-year-old unsanctioned MMA promotion – and not so much because avid jiu-jitsu and MMA fan Ottavia Bourdain was there. She’s been to UCLs before. No, what made it special was it was Ottavia’s birthday, and she brought along her husband Anthony to help celebrate.

How big of a deal was it to see a celebrity chef, bestselling author and host of TV shows on the Travel Channel and CNN at an underground fight? One fighter summed up the experience nicely by entering the ring for a bout, noticing for the first time the Bourdains sitting ringside, and exclaiming, “Holy shit! I am a huge fan of yours!” If a dude is moments away from engaging in the kind of struggle that more often than not could lead to serious bodily harm, and something distracts him from that impending battle and forces him to break kayfabe, well, that something must really be something.

More from MMA Frenzy

Which isn’t to say the event itself wasn’t a big ball of blood and violence and thrills and fun. It was. For example, there were fights like this:


But those sorts of scraps have been occurring within the confines of New York’s unregulated wilds for long time now. What are rare are the incursions into this secretive world by A-list TV personalities.

The Bourdains stayed for five of the seven bouts on the card, and from a distance of about four feet (close enough to get splattered with blood; closer than their first-row tickets at the UFC event the night before) they witnessed a kung fu specialist whack his opponent in the head with spinning backfist after spinning backfist, a kid nicknamed “the Rhino” brutalize his foe, and a Team Renzo Gracie rep take a serious shellacking. What did Ottavia and UCL first-timer Anthony think of the event? Ottavia loved it of course. As for her husband…


Anthony Bourdain, this was your first underground show. What did you think?
Well, it’s nice to see people doing the sport for the pure love of the game – as painful as it can be, no doubt. I mean it’s rather extraordinary how hard people work and how hard they train for the joy of getting pounded into the mat.
Did you see anything that made you cringe?
I saw a guy take a pretty good beating, a guy with a lot of heart take on probably a little more beating than I would’ve agreed to. But I also saw… that last submission was pretty awesome to see.
You were at [UFC 159 in Newark, N.J.] last night and you’re at the Underground Combat League today. Would you say that you’re a fan of MMA, and did this make you more or less of a fan seeing it this close?
I’m a fan of MMA, and I have to say – reluctantly – as much as I enjoyed myself last night at the UFC, tonight happened to be a little more exciting.


When everyone leaves a fight show happy, you know it was a very special event.

Follow Jim Genia on Twitter. Or don’t. See if I care.