What a weekend.
New Orleans, La., is quite the experience on its own. Spectacular seafood, hip-shaking music, colorful costumes and around-the-clock alcohol blend together to make one deliciously, albeit foggy, sinful cocktail.
Inject a free-spending, generous parent company like Anheuser Busch into the mix and that experience can turn the "Big Easy" upside down, which it did this weekend with its UFC Fight Night 25: "Battle on the Bayou"-sponsored event.
Bud Light, a major Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) sponsor, pulled out all the stops for the show this past Saturday night (Sept., 17, 2011) at The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. It seemingly took over the entire city, flying in hundreds of contest winners from around the nation and putting them up, along with their friends (one per winner), in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.
The round-trip flights and two-night hotel stays were covered. Free beer, in a city where $6 Huge Ass Beers and $10 Hurricanes can make a rich man poor, very fast, flowed like golden tap water. There was also a "kickoff party," meet-and-greets with top fighters such as Phil Davis, Mark Munoz, Ryan Bader, Ben Henderson, Jon Fitch and Shane Carwin, among others, autograph sessions and even a pre-fight party before the event started.
A beaded army of blue shirt-wearing -- with the slogan "Can I Bayou a Bud Light" -- UFC fans stormed the French Quarter for 48 hours. They were everywhere. And they were all there because of Bud Light. So, too, was I.
About two weeks ago, Bud Light reached out and asked if I'd be interested in making the trip out to New Orleans. There were no expectations nor "pay to play" innuendos. We had inadvertently helped the company promote its sweepstakes a few months back and this was just a very gracious "thank you."
That's how they roll.
Naturally, it was too good to pass up. An all expenses-paid trip to New Orleans to blow off some much needed steam, put down the reporter cap (sorta) and feel what it's like to be a fan again. Something that, unfortunately, is not terribly easy to do very often at this point. Having covered mixed martial arts (MMA) for more than six years and been to countless events, it sometimes becomes more of a thankless job than a guilty pleasure.
Not this weekend.
'Nawlins swallowed me whole Friday afternoon and spit me out a broken, hurt mess on Sunday morning. It was certainly an experience, which also included a face-to-face interview with a former interim heavyweight champion, rap session with three rockstars and much more.
And that was just on Day One.
Follow me throughout this story stream, which I will update over the next few days, as I take you through the whole weekend that was in New Orleans. An event that might have flown below the radar on its surface, but was likely a way more interesting, and memorable, experience than what you saw on Spike TV.