Hometown fighters get a choice the imports don’t. Spend fight week at home, away from the chaos, or go full-force into the fray and stay at the host hotel.
Everyone is different in their choices, usually. But for UFC 244 in New York City this week, five local fighters all chose to enjoy the benefit of a free hotel in the big city for five days.
“I like to feel like I'm on a weeklong vacation. I like to feel like I'm away. I like to feel like I have no option but to stay at the hotel and use the facilities and the accommodations that they have,” Massapequa’s Gregor Gillespie said. “I don't want to feel like, ‘Oh I can go home and sit in my apartment or I can go home at work out at Bellmore [Kickboxing MMA] if I wanted. I don't like feeling like that. I like packing up my whole week, bringing it with me and feeling like I'm on a vacation.”
Four other fighters with local connections – Shane Burgos (Bronx), Lyman Good (Manhattan), Julio Arce (Queens) and Katlyn Chookagian (Amityville) all chose to spend the week in New York City for Saturday’s event at Madison Square Garden, same as they would for any other fight in any other city, state or country.
The idea is to keep this fight week the same as any other, removed from the comforts – and distractions – of home.
“I don't want it to be too relaxed or I’ll feel like it's just training camp,” said Chookagian, the No. 1 ranked UFC flyweight who fights Jennifer Maia on the prelims.
But the way Burgos (12-1), a featherweight who faces Makwan Amirkhani, sees it, there is one undeniable advantage to fighting at home: the energy rush from the crowd.
“It's electrifying and you feel that through your body, just coursing through your veins, the adrenaline, it’s insane,” said Burgos, who now lives and fights out of Monroe. “Just that feeling of the crowd roaring gets my blood pumping.”
Added bonus? Venue.
“To do it here in The Garden where the most iconic battles took places,” said Arce (16-3), who kicks off UFC 244 against featherweight Hakeem Dawodu. “It's pretty cool. It's a pretty great feeling.”
Good (20-5, 1 no contest) echoed Burgos’ sentiment.
“When you’re doing a walkout, whether you're thinking about it or not you've got this exhilaration,” said Good, a welterweight who fights Chance Rencountre. “You get this feeling, this excitement, because you hear the roaring of the crowd and you know that's your home crowd rooting for you.”
With that comes a range of emotions, from the pressure of performing in front of the home crowd to not wanting to let them down. For some, it can be uplifting. For others, it can be an unnecessary burden that lingers and grows in intensity.
But home is home, regardless of whatever emotions seep into the mind.
“A sense of pride going into the fight because it's your hometown, it's something that you feel very privileged to be able to do,” Good said. “And it's an honor to also be able to feel like you're representing your hometown, your whole crowd, your family, your team. So there's a sense of pride but at the same time, there's also the other side of it, not putting so much weight on it either. Because, at the end of the day, no matter where you find it, your true home is inside the cage.”