In a Monterrey Arena show office, Matt Buyten was in his riding gear and pacing back and forth. Watching his rivals on a small television while he waited for his session to begin was the closest he could get to the Step Up competition at X Games Foz do Iguacu. Because he was in Monterrey, Mexico, for the Nuclear Cowboyz tour, Buyten missed X Games for the first time since 2008, when he had an elbow injury. He was seething. So he updated his Facebook status: "So F-ing mad I won't be in Brazil for Step-up. Not saying any names but someone will have a (sic) easy win."
That's when the four-time Step Up gold medalist had a devious fantasy: after he wins each of the next three -- no -- after he stomps his competition in Barcelona, Munich and Los Angeles he won't stop to celebrate, won't pose for photos, won't bite into the edges of his fifth, sixth and seventh gold medals. Yeah, just like the Tommy Riordan character in the UFC-themed movie "Warrior," he'll pummel his competition, but not with his fists, just his ability to jump over the moon, and then he'll ride out on a high note, leaving everyone in shock.
Buyten has thought about it but he's too polite and humble to actually pull it off. He has too much respect for Ronnie Renner and Step Up, the contest that he takes most seriously and, this year, with three more chances, he will have a shot at nearly doubling his gold-medal count. Although it's always him and Renner in the end, Buyten wants to beat everyone and he doesn't care where the riders come from, how long the competition takes or how high the bar goes.
"I'm down to hang it all out when it comes to Step Up and I take it very seriously," Buyten said. "I'm not there just to get TV time, I want to win. It's all about having that gold medal at the end of the day and I don't plan on slowing down anytime soon."
Renner feels the same and although he had his hands full with Foz gold medalist Bryce Hudson, competing in Brazil without Buyten didn't feel right.
"You don't want to do any event knowing that the top contender is not there," Renner said. "I don't care if it's Jeremy McGrath or whoever, I want the best of the best to be there. It's awesome but it's still, you don't want to win like that."
Other than Renner, whom he's beaten head to head in two of the past three Step Up events they've entered together, the field presents completely new competition to Buyten. Libor Podmol, Josh Hansen and Brian Foster were all Step Up or X Games rookies in Foz and they will return in Barcelona. The sixth rider is Enduro X competitor Wally Palmer, who has never even qualified for the final in any of the three Enduro X events held at X Games. In 2012 he was only on the alternate list. When Buyten found out he said, "Who?"
Renner was also surprised. "Oh, really!? I heard he's a wild man. I saw him ride EnduroCross and I've heard he's not afraid to put it all on the line so that's a cool addition," he said.
On April 27, Palmer announced to his Facebook friends that he had been invited. Then he said, "If anyone has done it message me for some help lol."
Renner heard right about Palmer; he isn't afraid to twist the throttle in spite of consequences. But he's not above asking for help. He's been on the phone with Renner, who offered suspension tips, and Hudson, who explained the best takeoff strategy. Palmer even hit up this writer for advice during an interview. He's just trying to make the best of this opportunity that was born from the fact Hudson is recovering from a broken leg and that only one month separates X Games Foz from Barcelona.
In the past, Palmer has been told he had no chance of getting in. In Brazil he went to the Enduro X sport organizer who said, "Let me see what I can do." Squeaky wheel. Now, in the days leading into competition, the unknown Palmer is solidly in second place in an XGames.com poll that asks who will win Moto X Step Up in Barcelona.
Plus, he's bringing new technology to the sport, an all-wheel-drive Christini 300cc two stroke, which should put more power and traction to the ground coming into the takeoff. But he has no idea what will happen once he's in the air. He hasn't actually had a chance to try it out yet. He's a full-time competitor on the Geico EnduroCross series, which started May 3 in Las Vegas, and he also runs his own heating and air business in New Jersey. Combine all that with bad weather in the Northeast and Palmer hasn't had as much time to practice as he would like. He has built a 12-foot-high takeoff and has taken a few hits but as of May 11 he hasn't been able to try it out on the AWD.
"I'm just going to hold it wide open and hope everything works out," Palmer said. "It will be either really good or really crazy or really bad. If I didn't feel like I could do it I wouldn't have signed up but it's definitely really scary. Anybody here [at EnduroCross] was like, 'You're crazy.'"
If you talk with Buyten and Renner they'd say it's probably best not to practice at all. They don't.
"Step Up is not something you practice," Buyten said. "You can, but it's not fun."
"It's dumb to practice," Renner said.
Good starts and a straight line into the takeoff are said to be the most important parts to Step Up success and Buyten and Renner will no doubt be burning up the clutches on their practice bikes looking for a better edge. So they might not be at home trying to top Renner's X Games record of 47 feet set last year in Los Angeles but they're practicing.