The Weekly Wrap: Oct. 17 - Oct. 23

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By Jack Encarnacao Oct 24, 2009
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.

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship launched a needed go-home push for UFC 104 “Machida vs. Shogun” this Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles -- its first show in California in more than two years.

The company premiered a quality “Countdown” preview special Monday on Spike TV, which added steam to the Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua main event. The fight represents the first true test of Machida as a pay-per-view headliner. Ed Soares, Machida’s manager, told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show he will be watching the PPV numbers closely for signs of Machida’s status as a draw. Soares said Machida’s bout with Rashad Evans at UFC 98 did “really good” numbers, which he defined as anything above 600,000 buys. UFC 98 was in a large part bolstered by the Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra grudge match; UFC 104 has no other considerable draws on the lineup.

“Countdown to UFC 104” did quite a bit to position Machida as a star, highlighted by footage of the Belem, Brazil, native being mobbed by fans upon returning to his hometown with the UFC belt. Machida moved his camp to a secluded family farm compound in the jungle to dodge the media blitz; the setting allowed for some memorable visuals. The show framed the fight as the elegance of karate versus the violence of muay Thai and noted Machida as the least-hit fighter in UFC history. Rua was promoted as having the third-most knockouts in Pride Fighting Championships history. He was also painted as a fighter earning a light heavyweight title shot that eluded him in Pride because Wanderlei Silva, his former teammate, held the belt at that weight.

An equal amount of air time was spent probing the Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell heavyweight fight. The profile of Rothwell was very effective in making the fight seem like a lifelong culmination for the Wisconsin native, touching on his past struggles, including battling spinal meningitis as a youngster and surviving a car crash at 17 that killed his close friend.

The special featured grainy footage of Rothwell fighting for Dave Strasser’s Freestyle Combat Challenge and showed Velasquez making the rounds with the Spanish-speaking media. Velasquez’s coaches expressed concerns about his performance against Chieck Kongo at UFC 99, feeling he was hit flush too many times for someone who many see as the future of the heavyweight division. UFC President Dana White has pushed the idea that Velasquez could be the first Mexican heavyweight champion in combat sports history. The UFC has targeted Mexico City for a live event early next year if it can secure sponsors.

The premiere airing of “Countdown to UFC 104” drew 524,000 average viewers on Spike TV. The number represents an increase from a year-low 382,000 for the UFC 103 preview special last month but still ranks as the second-lowest Countdown rating of the year.

The UFC will enter the show off two below-average pay-per-views in terms of buys, and ticket sales for Saturday’s event have been relatively slow. Some 8,000 tickets, less than half of capacity, were sold a week out for a $1.8 million take, according to the Wrestling Observer. White has aggressively given away tickets -- as many as 3,300 -- and brought back his YouTube video blog series for UFC 104. The only other time the UFC has run an event at the Staples Center -- UFC 60 in 2006, headlined by Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie -- there were 14,765 in attendance for a $2.9 million gate.

UFC 104 may mark the return the Octagon’s return to the Golden State, but it will not serve as “Big” John McCarthy’s return to the UFC. It was considered a possibility because McCarthy, unlike in Nevada, is currently licensed to officiate in California. However, Interim Executive Officer David Thornton said McCarthy simply was not assigned to the show as part of a regular referee rotation; he has been scheduled to work a Nov. 6 Strikeforce event in Fresno. McCarthy told Sherdog.com he reached out to the commission to announce his availability for the Oct. 24 show. White told MMA Fanhouse the company had no role in deciding whether McCarthy refereed but did admit the two parties are “not on great terms.”

Nineteen of the 22 fighters scheduled to compete at UFC 104 “Machida vs. Shogun” made weight at Friday’s official weigh-in. Gleison Tibau (157) and Josh Neer (156.5), who will lock horns with one another, both failed to meet their contracted weights. Welterweight Anthony Johnson (176) followed their lead, as he tipped the scales five pounds past his limit for his main card match with Yoshiyuki Yoshida (170).
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