Mr. Fanelli Goes To Vegas

Our Personalized Name Card

I’ve led a great 23 years so far in this life, but if there’s one thing I’d change about it, it’s the number of different places I’ve been. Granted, I’ve done my fair share of traveling and loved every second of it, but it’s all been to a handful of places. I love me some Disney World (9 times), Busch Gardens Virginia (3 times), and North Wildwood, NJ (more times than I can count or you can fathom), but I’ve always wanted to see more of the country/world (And no, I’m not complaining about Disney World 9 times. That place is awesome, and I’d go again tomorrow if I could.). Before last week, I’d hadn’t been farther west than Houston, TX (where I saw Wrestlemania 25 last year).

My desire was fulfilled when I received a phone call from Herr Executive Editor Eddie Inzauto asking if I’d like to attend a media event for THQ and UFC 2010.

"Sure," I said, "where and when?"

"April 28-30… in Vegas."

I wasn’t sure I heard him right. "Vegas? Like Sin City? In Nevada?"

"Yeah, there."

"Um… hell yeah!"

Just like that, I was broadening my travel horizons. I couldn’t believe it. No one could. This sort of thing doesn’t just fall into your lap, especially a week-and-a-half before the event is happening. In that week-and-a-half, I spoke to Neal Pabon, the THQ rep who was in charge, about my inclusion, then to the travel agent to organize my flights and car pickups. Everyone asked, "Aren’t you afraid of traveling all by yourself?" to which my answer was "No way!" I repeatedly had to tell myself that it was indeed happening, that I wasn’t dreaming. The night before, I had trouble sleeping out of sheer anticipation for what was ahead.

I was very excited to see Vegas for the first time, but little did I know just how "one-of-a-kind" my trip would be.


I woke up about 5 AM, ate some leftover pizza (Breakfast of Champions, by the way) and headed to Philadelphia International Airport by way of parental taxi (thanks again, Dad). I went through security, found my gate, the whole airport shebang. I was a bit early for my flight, so I decided to head over to the bar right next to my gate to get a drink. This marks the first of many "firsts" I had on the trip: This was the first time I was told that a bar wasn’t serving alcohol yet, but would be at 7AM, a half-hour later. Rats. I settled for Pepsi, and within 15 minutes boarding had begun.

I would like to say that I had INSANE amounts of luck with the travel portion of the trip. On my first flight, from Philadelphia to Denver, I had a window seat with NO ONE IN THE MIDDLE SEAT. If you’ve seen me, you know I like some extra space. The connecting flight from Denver to Vegas was at the same gate I left the plane from, so I didn’t have to run around the airport like a lost child. I was in the middle for the Denver-to-Vegas flight, but I had some cool dudes sitting with me, and we talked, laughed, and had a great flight together. On the way home, my flight was originally going to get me back to Philly at 9:52 PM after 9 hours of travel and 2 stops. When I got my boarding pass, I was offered a non-stop flight that would get me home at 5:01 PM for a small fee. I paid it, got on the flight, and again got a window seat with no one in the middle. Not only that, but the flight home was early. Insane travel luck.

Anyhow, all of my airtime was spent doing one of three things: playing Braid on my laptop, playing Trace Memory on my DS, or watching Borat and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children on my PSP. I think airlines were thinking of me when they made the "turn off all electronics during take-off and landing" rule.

Some pictures from my travel:

The wing of the plane

The wing of the plane.

The Rockies

The Rockies, taken just as we flew out of Denver.

The airport welcome sign.

The most welcoming sign of the day. It was a beautiful thing (and yes, those are slot machines in the airport).

I found my driver, who led me and a few other UFC event-going journos to the black Escalade waiting for us, and we were off to the Palms Resort and Casino, our home for the next two days.



The room was huge, two queen beds for little old me. All that meant to me was I didn’t need housekeeping to come in: two nights, two beds, two sets of clean sheets and blankets. Score.

After I settled in, I had about seven hours to kill before I had to meet up with the THQ guys for dinner, so do you know what I did?



SLEEP TIME. The plane left me feeling mighty tired, so I zonked out for probably 3 of those hours. After that, I watched some ESPN, showered, dressed, and before I knew it I was following the other journalists and THQ reps to Simon Restaurant at the Palms. There, I had some Rotisserie Chicken (which was divine) and probably the best dessert idea I’ve ever seen:


Cotton Candy Ball of Awesome

Cotton candy, snowballs, cupcakes, and other sweets from our childhoods all spread out on a giant plate. These people knew how to get to gamers: send them back to their childhood.

After dinner, it was off to enjoy what the Palms had to offer: specifically, the Playboy Club and the Ghost Bar. THQ slipped us two VIP passes to the Palms clubs with our room keys, so I was going to use at least one of them. The pass said that we’d get into the Playboy Club free on Wednesday, so we chose to go there. When we got there, the lady behind the counter stamped us and said that we could get into the Ghost Bar with that stamp too. Schwing!

Both bars were located at the top of their respective towers, each with a fantastic view of the strip and ridiculously expensive drinks. I give the edge to Ghost Bar, though, for the outdoor balcony area with the glass walls. While the views at both were awesome, being outside to enjoy it was even cooler. 

I got back into my room about midnight (3 AM in my home time zone) and went to bed. Day one COMPLETE.




I woke up and changed into gym shorts and the UFC shirt THQ provided for me, as instructed. Uh-oh…

I was told to meet at the Little Buddha restaurant downstairs for what THQ called the "UFC Power Breakfast." It was a breakfast burrito with eggwhites and fresh vegetables paired with a fruit smoothie. Great food, but it had a higher purpose…. Just what the hell was I getting myself into?

After we all ate, they filed us all into party buses:

Party Bus!!!


…and drove us to the set of The Ultimate Fighter (aka the UFC reality show on Spike) to train with some of the top trainers in the UFC.

These buses were the same kind that you see on reality television: TV monitors showing music videos, big speakers pumping out the music, there was even a stripper pole in the middle of it. Some of us wondered which had more mileage: the pole or the car itself. While riding, we were treated to one of the most surreal videos I’ve ever seen: Jamie Foxx ft. T-Pain’s "Blame It." I hadn’t seen the video until now, and let me say this: it starts Jake Gyllenhall, Forest Whitaker, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ron Howard. Ron Howard was paid to sit and raise his glass in split-second scenes, while the rest were all over the video. Strange, but the song was catchy.

Anyway, back to the reason I was in the bus: hoo boy, did they train us.

They split all of the journalists into three groups of about 10. There were three training stations set up for us.

We did some boxing:


Boxing again

Some Muay Thai training in the octagon:

Jason in the Octagon

More Muay Thai

And some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, of which I unfortunately did not get any pictures (mostly because I was being tied up like a pretzel).

After training for about an hour or so, we met back in the center of the room where we had a Q and A session with some current UFC fighters.

Q and A table

Left to Right: Todd Duffee (Heavyweight), Forrest Griffin (Light Heavyweight), Frank Mir (Heavyweight), Sam Stout (Lightweight), Johny Hendricks (Welterweight), Carlos Condit (Welterweight), Antonio Minotauro Noguiera (Heavyweight).

We were allowed to ask any questions we wanted. Some asked about video games, some asked about MMA. I asked each of them to tell me the one opponent that has stuck out in their minds throughout their career, and Frank Mir thought I was trying to get him in trouble with Brock Lesnar again. I thought he’d mention Tim Sylvia (whose arm Mir snapped in two with an armbar).

When the Q and A was finished, we were told to file back into the buses and make our way back to the hotel. We were given some free time and up to $50 worth of room service until we were to meet for the playing session. What did I do with that time? Another of the many firsts: my first Las Vegas buffet. $12.88 gets you all-you-can-eat food from a variety of different cultures. From Italian to Asian to Middle Eastern, there was a ton of great food. After eating, I went back upstairs, fell asleep again for about a half-hour, then got ready for the second half of the day: the playing session.


At 5PM, we all loaded onto elevators and made our way to the suite THQ rented out for our playing session. Now, we were expecting a nice room with a lot of TVs for trying out the game. Oh, we got one alright:

Where we played UFC 2010

Hugh Hefner’s private room. The same room he and his girls toured in an episode of The Girls Next Door on E! TV. The very room I remember seeing on that episode and telling my mom and girlfriend: "I’ll be in that room someday." Here I was, walking into the door. I was floored. I could not believe that of all rooms, THQ went above and beyond to get this one. I was pumped to say the least. This because it was less of a game session and more of a "HOLY CRAP LOOK WHERE I AM PLAYING VIDEO GAMES TODAY" session. 

A couple more shots of the room, just for you:

Playboy Pool

Skyline During Day

Skyline At Night

The room was great, the people were great, and the game was great. We played for six hours; some of it by ourselves feeling out the new Career mode, some of it in a huge tournament (using the new Tournament Mode, of course) with all the journalists, winner taking home a full-size, full-metal replica UFC title belt. You know from my preview that I liked the game, but there was one other thing I liked about that night:

Me in the pool

Man, that water was beautiful. (Also, yes, that is Stewie Griffin on my boxers. No, I am not drowning him.)

After the play session, a group of us were hungry, so we decided to go to Denny’s on the strip at 2 in the morning. There were 12 of us total, and we weren’t sure how to go about getting there together. Luckily, one of the THQ guys had a solution:

Our ride to Denny's

Stretch-calade! I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up climbing into one of these and going to Denny’s right near the MGM Grand.

After Denny’s, I walked the strip for a while, then headed back to the Palms for bed, as I had to get up to fly home about 4 hours after I got out of the cab.


This trip was a multitude of firsts for me: first time in Las Vegas, first time at a gaming press event, first time west of Houston. When I decided to get into gaming journalism, I never in a million years thought I’d be getting a trip to Vegas, let alone getting to hang with THQ reps and UFC fighters. This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that I won’t soon forget.

I need to give those responsible the proper recognition, so here goes:

-Neal Pabon and the rest of the THQ team: Holy crap guys. I never thought I’d feel as welcomed and included as I did during this event. Going to PAX made me feel like a legit member of the press, but attending this event made me feel like I was at the top of my profession, and I’ve only been doing it for a year. Thanks again guys for a truly awesome time.

-Dana White and the UFC: If it wasn’t for your organization, I wouldn’t have had a reason to go out to Vegas in the first place. Aside from that, the treatment we got at the Ultimate Fighter facility was top-notch. Thanks for catering to us gaming journalists.

-Herr Editor-In-zauto: Thanks for letting me go to this. You could’ve easily decided to do it yourself, but for whatever reason, you chose me. Next time, we both go, so no one’s jealous of anyone else. 

-All the other journalists in attendance: Thanks for putting up with the rookie. You all made me feel like I was part of the group instantaneously, and that’s something I’ll always remember. See everyone at E3!

I can’t say enough about how much fun I had, and how much more excited I am for UFC 2010. Of course, Vegas will only be the furthest west for me until mid-June, but it will forever be the first place I ever traveled for business, and it was a hell of a trip.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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