The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
Just about everything was going right as the Ultimate Fighting Championship marched toward its debut in Australia this Saturday.
UFC 110 sold out the 16,500-seat Acer Arena in Sydney in a matter of hours, the second-fastest sellout in company history. Demand was so high that tickets are being offered for a closed-circuit broadcast of the event in a ballroom near the arena. And the card, which will air on free television in Australia, gained some late steam from event-week trash talk between co-main eventers Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva. Local fan enthusiasm was such that UFC President Dana White said the company was considering making Australia an annual stop.
But, as has been the case frequently for the UFC in recent months, there were some last-minute curveballs. Two fighters pulled out of the card late this week, including one of the Australia natives, Elvis Sinosic, brought in for local appeal. Sinosic, a Sydney native set to face fellow Aussie Chris Haseman in a rematch of a 1997 bout, suffered a shoulder injury. The fight was spotlighted in local promotion, including during Thursday’s UFC press conference. A replacement was not brought in for Haseman. It was to be Sinosic’s first UFC fight since 2007 and Haseman’s first since 2002.
Also falling off the card was Ben Rothwell, who bowed out of his fight with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic due an unspecified illness. The heavyweight tilt was perhaps the third-most anticipated bout on the card. The UFC brought in Sinosic campmate and light heavyweight Anthony Perosh, who lost to Jeff Monson and Christian Wellisch in two 2006 Octagon appearances, to face Cro Cop, who has a following among Croatians in Australia. But the head-kick legend apparently won’t come in unscathed, either. The Croatian Web site MMAAxiom.com reported Friday that Cro Cop received a cut above the eye in pre-fight sparring. The report said Cro Cop would still attempt to fight, but it’s not clear if a doctor will clear him.
The cancellations came less than a week after the UFC 112 main event had to be patched together after Vitor Belfort pulled out of his title fight against Anderson Silva on April 10. Demian Maia, who himself needed medical clearance for a cut near the eye suffered in his Feb. 6 fight, was tapped for the title fight.
The event-week marketing train rolled, however, with the UFC generating plenty of mainstream press in Australia -- though less MMA Web site coverage due to the long flight -- in the days leading up to the event. Though Spike TV will not air a live preliminary fight special prior to Saturday’s card, which begins Sunday morning in Australia but airs in the typical 10 p.m. EST slot in the states, the network did air a “Countdown” special Thursday night that drew a healthy average of 635,000 viewers for its first airing, according to MMAPayout.com.
The special, which highlighted the Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira main event and the Michael Bisping vs. Wanderlei Silva fight, focused more on the fighters’ strategies and training than biographical sketches. Nogueira was shown sharpening his wrestling with NCAA National Champion Mark Munoz, while Velasquez worked his jiu-jitsu with Dave Camarillo, who termed fighting submission master Nogueira on the floor as a game of millimeters. Camarillo said the fight will be the biggest for the American Kickboxing Academy since Jon Fitch challenged Georges St. Pierre in 2007. Velasquez getting dropped by Cheick Kongo last year was played up vis-Ã -vis Nogueira’s boxing, with Camarillo saying it “will be a short night for us if (Velasquez) makes those kinds of mistakes.”
Friction was appreciably higher in the Silva-Bisping feature. Bisping’s Wolfslair Academy coach Anthony McGann rolled his eyes in response to some of Silva’s self-referential statements, saying "It's just the same s--- over and over again: a great knockout for my fans.” McGann said Silva’s game is not evolving and that his punches aren’t the hardest things in the world to avoid. The sour feelings carried over into Thursday’s press conference, as Bisping and Silva sniped at each after Silva said of Bisping: “Nobody likes him.” Silva’s personal life was highlighted on the “Countdown” special, showing him with his family and son and in his new Wand Fight Team gym in Las Vegas. It also went into the facial surgery Silva had to shave down bone, remove facial scar tissue and open up his nasal passages to counteract severe snoring. The surgery caused an eight-month layoff, the longest of Silva’s 13-year career.
The card will air on Australia’s OneHD sports network for free on Sunday morning and afternoon in Australia. The UFC’s eye was trained on the country in part because DVD sales were exceptionally high there. UFC programming on Australian television draws some 500,000 viewers weekly, said Marshall Zelaznik, the UFC U.K. president.
All fighters made weight Friday night, which was Saturday afternoon in Australia.