PHILADELPHIA — After drawing a record 1.5 million-plus pay-per-view buys for last month’s landmark UFC 100 show, the UFC kicks off a new century of mixed martial arts cards in a new town with two intriguing marquee matchups.
The City of Brotherly Love is hosting the MMA juggernaut for the first time this week and the UFC made the most of the city’s past by holding its pre-fight news conference Thursday at the Independence Visitor Center, a stone’s throw from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the nation’s founders plotted their freedom.
Recent history was more the order of the day on the UFC front, however.
While the news conference focused on Saturday’s lightweight title fight between champion B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian and an eagerly awaited 205-pound showdown between middleweight title-holder Anderson Silva and former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin, UFC president Dana White found himself talking Fedor when he was scrummed by reporters after.
Russian star Fedor Emelianenko opted to shun the UFC earlier this week to sign with Strikeforce, a modest promotion that has operated under the UFC radar in recent years.
White announced last Friday that negotiations with the Russian’s camp had broken down because they were insisting on co-promoting any fights Emelianenko was involved in. The UFC boss was in Abu Dhabi, scouting the United Arab Emirates for a future fight card, when news broke Monday that the Russian was joining Strikeforce.
Apart from a few expletive-laced texts, he had not reacted to the news until Thursday.
“Who’s he going to fight?” White asked. “Nobody . . . he’s going to fight nobodies and I just don’t understand it. I just don’t get it.”
The Strikeforce website lists 34 fighters, a number that only covers A to C of the UFC stable.
Available Strikeforce opponents for Emelianenko include champion Alistair Overeem, Brett (The Grim) Rogers and former UFC fighter Fabricio Werdum. Strikeforce is also partnering with Japan-based Dream so it can raid another organization.
But the top heavies — Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, Randy Couture — call the UFC home.
Because White was on the road, he never got to speak to Emelianenko in person. He had a representative in the room with the Russians while he and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta were at the other end of the phone.
“If I was sitting on Fedor’s lap that deal wouldn’t have got done,” he said.
“Didn’t matter. The deal was not going to get done. We went in there to do a deal, they didn’t.”
White seemed genuinely baffled on why his multimillion-dollar offer (reports pegged it at a minimum of US$5 million a fight) was turned down.
“It’s definitely not about money, it’s definitely not about contracts. What’s it really about? I don’t know, I don’t get it.”
Strikeforce upped the ante Thursday by scheduling its news conference with Emelianenko at the exact same time as the UFC 101 news conference. It was a taste of its own medicine for the UFC, which used to do what it could to take the lustre off former rival Affliction’s shows by scheduling events or shows opposite them.
It appears Strikeforce can expect more of the same.
“They should have stayed the way they were,” White said ominously of Strikeforce.
“If you want to fight me, we’ll fight,” he added. “You know how that goes. And we know how it ends.”
NOTES: UFC president Dana White confirms that the landmark UFC 100 show July 11 in Las Vegas garnered an organization-record of 1.5 million-plus pay-per-view buys. And the UFC president says the 100 bump is still being felt more than a month later. “No doubt about it, 100 took us to a whole ’nother level. There was so much buzz and energy around that fight — and not just here but all over the world. It was big.” … White says there could be three UFC shows in Canada next year: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. “We’re softening up a lot of the provinces up there,” he said. “We’re definitely going to Vancouver.”