The worlds of esports and MMA collided on Wednesday as UFC fighters Daniel Cormier and Brandon Moreno met up with Team Liquid’s Hungrybox for Monster Energy’s Live and Unleashed Twitch stream at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas.
The trio stepped into the octagon together, not for a bare-knuckle brawl, but to play EA Sports UFC 4 and talk fighting, esports, gaming, and so much more.
Very early on, it was clear that Cormier had the upper hand in the virtual ring – he’s an avid esports gamer, and actually helped to test the game during its development. The professional esports gamer of the group, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, struggled in UFC 4, but assured Cormier that he would dominate the matchup in his game of choice: Super Smash Bros. Hungrybox went as far as saying he would bet $10,000 that he could beat Cormier 10 times without losing a single stock.
The competition was never meant to be the highlight of the event, as the chemistry between the three competitors and host Luke “Dingo” Trembath shined through from the start, and the four of them covered a range of topics while they played. At one point Cormier explained how he got into fighting by taking up wrestling in school, as a way to defend himself from bullies.
UFC stars love esports
Sitting down with the competitors one on one, it was easy to see what video games mean to each one of them and how far esports has come since they each picked up a controller.
For Cormier, video games, and an affinity for esports, have been lifelong hobbies, one that he is able to continue in his retirement from fighting.
“I’ve always played video games. My whole life, that’s all I did…being so mainstream now, I feel like all those kids that hid in their rooms playing video games because that’s what they loved, it allows for them to come out of the shadows now and be themselves,” Cormier said.
The former light-heavyweight champion of the world transformed back into that exuberant child as he talked about his days playing Tecmo Bowl on his NES until his mother yelled at him to go outside. Cormier’s love of gaming prevails to this day – he will spend his free time playing an almost limitless variety of sports games, from UFC to Madden to NBA2K.
“I love 2K,” Cormier said. “And not just because they’ve already given my character all the medals when I load it up.”
Cormier’s UFC counterpart, reigning flyweight champion Brandon Moreno uses video games as a way to escape from the pressure and grind of fighting, and as a way to connect with his seven-year-old daughter.
“We love to play together…Mario Party, the old Mario games, Mario Kart. She loves Mario,” Moreno said.
Moreno trains with the intensity of the champion he is, but out of the ring, his hobbies are anything but. In addition to gaming, he enjoys building Lego sets – he’s currently putting the finishing touches on the latest Stranger Things set – and collecting Funko Pop figures. He even brought one for Cormier to sign. During Monster Energy’s stream, he recounted the story of the time he was recognized while buying comic books in a store in his hometown of Tijuana.
The two fighters were joined by a man of equal prowess to theirs – in virtual fighting. Hungrybox is one of the world’s elite Super Smash Bros Melee players. His skills with Jigglypuff have made him a three-time world champion. While Cormier and Moreno use video games as a way to relax from their livelihoods, Hungrybox has made them his.
“I quit my old jobs and my entire life now is esports. It is competing, it’s content creation, that whole thing. The fact that that’s now available as an option as a career, to support a family on, to live your own life with, is really an amazing thing that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. So we are living in a great time, and I really am happy that a lot more organizations, a lot more big companies, a lot more people, are recognizing it for what it’s worth,” said Hungrybox.
Hungrybox is currently a member of Team Liquid, one of the largest esports organizations in the world. He left his job as a chemical engineer to pursue gaming full time and now has over a quarter of a million followers on Twitch, as well as a thriving career as an esports commentator when he isn’t competing.
Twenty years ago, events like today’s would be almost unheard of. Both the UFC and competitive gaming were still in their infancy. However today, video games have become so ingrained in mainstream culture that celebrities and famous athletes like Cormier, Moreno, and Tony Hawk, who hosted another Monster Energy Live and Unleashed stream with US Olympic skateboarder Nyjah Harris, now regularly come together to share in their love of gaming.
That common love brought Cormier, Moreno, and Hungrybox together and made their conversations on stream thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and made for another highly successful installment of Monster Energy’s Live and Unleashed series, which will continue with Apex Legends this September, although there is no word yet on which athletes or celebrities will be sitting down to play.
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