The Ubiquity of Santa Rosa, My Starts and Stops in Watching MMA, Dom “Sho Nuff” Waters, and TUF 16

* This entry is dedicated to the memory of Brian Bean (sorry if I got the spelling wrong, I don’t think I ever saw your name in print, dawg).

TODAY here at MSGV, we take our first look at a topic we’ll be monitoring over the coming weeks.

But before that, it wouldn’t be MSGV without a tangential detour through the Gino Vegan wilderness.

As you may or may not know, ‘Mr. Sensational’ Gino Vega resides in the city of Santa Rosa, CA, a suburban city with a population of around 169,000 people, about an hour north of San Francisco. It isn’t small enough to be a “small town,” yet it isn’t large enough to be a bonafide “big city,” either.

Oftentimes, the identities of similarly-sized cities are defined by their more populous neighbors, but in most of those cases the smaller cities are immediately adjacent to the larger ones.

In contrast, Santa Rosa exists in isolation from the Greater Bay Area. This has allowed it to have a more unique local culture and storied/documented local history than one might expect from a city of its size, but at the same time it can also cause its residents to develop a NIMBY-ish brand of provincial tunnel vision.

Either way, there’s one thing that’s remained true in my experience as a Santa Rosan. Fellow residents of this city have a way of popping up all over the place.

I’ve randomly encountered people from Santa Rosa in Hawaii, twice in Las Vegas, twice at Disneyland, in New York City, at the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, and probably some other far flung places that aren’t immediately coming to mind. These aren’t always people I know personally (though sometimes they are). In many cases they’re simply people I recognize from seeing around town, or strangers who, in casual conversation, drop that they’re either from or have lived in Santa Rosa. Yes, call it charming, call it creepy, but Rosans are everywhere.

Like it or not, and I’ve done both, Santa Rosa, with its strange ubiquity, is one of those things that’s been a constant for most of my life, and will probably continue to be so until I’m no longer alive. The same can be said for combat sports and entertainment. At the age of nine I got a “Hulk Hogan’s Road to the Championship” book through a Scholastic book order, and I immediately became a huge fan of the Iron Sheik. This led to Pro Wrestling fandom in general, something I’ve stuck with off but mostly on for the last 27 years.

While Pro Wrestling has made the deepest mark on my combat sports/entertainment obsession, mixed martial arts (or MMA) have played a part as well. Today, the institutions of Pro Wrestling and MMA spend a lot of time distinguishing themselves from one another and downplaying any relationship between the two. However, back in the late 1990s, it was my interest in Pro Wrestling that led directly to my interest in MMA.

In 1999, Ms. Sensational and I had split up. She remained in San Jose, where we’d been living, and I returned to Santa Rosa. After a few weeks at my parents’ house I moved into a crappy place in a crappy part of town that’s now known as a “hip,” “artsy” area, but back then was neither. It was more of a “get propositioned by male prostitutes when walking home drunk from a bar at 2am” or “get chased down the street by a foaming at the mouth meth user at one in the afternoon” hood when I was there. I never do seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Anyway, the house was owned by a slumlord land lady who also owned a local Burger joint. She thought she was renting the house to two dudes, but SURPRISE!, I was number three. Those were the dying days of the Monday Night Wars, and I was still religiously watching Raw and Nitro. Since we didn’t have cable, my mom would tape the shows for me on VHS (thanks Mom) and then my roommates and I would sit around and watch them in our filthy, smoke-filled living room (so much for Vince moving wrestling out of the smoke-filled arenas).

While MMA–or shootfighting as I probably thought of it back then–was somewhere on my radar, mostly from seeing Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn perform in WWF, I hadn’t really watched it. However, shortly after moving into the house one of my roommates got a job at a local video store and he started bringing home tapes of old UFC shows, starting with the first one.

Soon UFC was incorporated into our weekly combat viewing as we caught up with the happenings in the Octagon and got to know the lay of the MMA land. Tank Abbott, Royce Gracie, Scott Ferrozzo, Oleg Taktarov, hell, even Paul “Polar Bear” Varelans joined the pantheon of larger-than-life figures whose one-on-one struggles distilled dramaturgical pathos to its purest form, only when these guys fought, it was REAL!

Eventually my roommates and I went our separate ways. I reunited with Ms. Sensational. The 90’s gave way to the 00’s. The Monday Night Wars ended. Ms. Sensational and I got married. And along the way UFC got lost in the mix.

Since then, while I’ve continuously kept some level of interest in Pro Wrestling, my relationship with MMA has involved a lot of stops and starts. I’ve always wanted to follow it, but different circumstances have kept us apart. Then, when I’ve actualy had the chance to watch, I’ve had a hard time getting back into it.

But lately, with my disgust/disinterest in mainstream American Pro Wrestling at an all time high, I decided to bite the bullet and give MMA fandom one last valiant try. And so far it’s been working. After wading through old Pride and UFC DVDs, I’ve finally gotten my MMA-watching legs back under me, and I’ve even acclimated to current goings-on.

UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter” TV show is among the modern MMA phenomena that passed me by during the last decade. I didn’t have cable when the show first started airing, and by the time I did, I was completely out of the MMA loop. But now that I’m watching MMA again and The Ultimate Fighter 16 just debuted, I decided it was my chance to see what all the hubbub was about.

I understand UFC in general and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) in particular are in a lull right now, business-wise, following a boom period, but hey, it’s all new to me, so whatever. I watched the season premiere last week and I can definitely see that if you’ve followed the show year in and year out, it’s probably not that exciting anymore, but I enjoyed it well enough. The first episode is a bit much to get through, because it’s mostly people you haven’t heard of fighting to qualify as cast members, though I imagine, like most reality shows, it’ll become more interesting as personalities develop over the weeks.

BUT, there was one aspect of the premiere that jumped off the screen and caught my interest right away.

As the very first qualifying bout was starting and the two fighters were being introduced, a graphic on the screen read that one of the fighters was from…SANTA ROSA, CA.

Yes, a fellow by the name of Dom Waters was one of the first two contestants to appear on TUF 16 and he hails from our fair city. FINALLY, Santa Rosa represents in something I’m actually interested in. Move over Levi Leipheimer (and stop inspiring throngs of unhelmeted cyclists to almost run me over on the sidewalk while you’re at it), THANK YOU Dom Waters.

Still, while I watched I worried. Yeah, the guy’s from Santa Rosa, but what if something horrible happens? What if he gets KOed or choked out in his qualifying fight? All this excitement will be for naught. Also, I have a really bad track record when it comes to backing winners.

BUT NO! Have some damned faith for once in your life, Gino Vega! IN THIRTY SECONDS, IN THE FIRST ROUND, DOM WATERS KOed HIS OPPONENT WITH A MONSTER UPPERCUT! Mr. Waters then went on to be the first pick for Roy Nelson’s team, and will survive for another week.

SO, that being that case, we here at MSGV will keep watching TUF 16 as it progresses and will provide updates on Santa Rosa’s own Dom “Sho Nuff” Waters as he continues to wreck shop on his way to a UFC contract. Best of luck Mr. Waters, and thanks again for the representation.

Santa Rosa. MMA. TUF. Dom Waters. See? All this stuff ties together, eventually…

Here’s a post-fight interview with Dom “Sho Nuff” Waters after a victory right here in Santa Rosa…


And here’s a bonus picture of Tank Abbott and Scott Ferrozzo. I’m not sure when this was taken, but obviously not back when they first set foot in the Octagon. Good to see these guys are still doing their thing:

  1. I’m frequently surprised that I don’t have to explain to folks from other parts of the world where Santa Rosa is.

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