Nearly four years have passed since George Sotiropoulos competed in a mixed martial arts match on Australian soil. In the time since, the sport’s landscape changed drastically, a point that was hammered home when the UFC announced plans to promote a show Down Under.
Sotiropoulos will collide with one-time lightweight title challenger Joe Stevenson in a featured bout at UFC 110 “Nogueira vs. Velasquez” this Saturday at the Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia. Requests for tickets, though expected, have kept the 32-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt busy.
“I had multiple, multiple, numerous ticket requests,” Sotiropoulos said. “I had to tell them it was out of my control. What can I do? You only get a limited number of tickets for your friends and family.”
Now based in Vancouver, Wash., more than 7,500 miles from his homeland, Sotiropoulos expects a raucous sold-out crowd to greet competitors at the UFC premier.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I didn’t see myself fighting in Australia at this level. When I first started, MMA was a more low-profile sport in Australia. The UFC changed that. Crowds in Australia are usually around 2,000. For the UFC, there’s going to be 16,000-20,000 people. They’re going to be wild. They’re going to love it. They love sports, and they’re going to go nuts.”
A semi-finalist on Season 6 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Sotiropoulos has quietly rattled off five straight wins, all of them finishes. He thinks a victory over the respected and tested Stevenson would launch him to far greater heights.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Sotiropoulos said. “It’s what I’ve been working towards my entire career. Everyone who fights eventually wants to fight for the title. This obviously moves me closer to that. A win here will take me further up the lightweight division and bring higher-caliber opponents.”
On the heels of back-to-back defeats to Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, Stevenson has shined in wins over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz and perennial lightweight contender Spencer Fisher. In fact, he became just the second man to finish Fisher when he struck the Pat Miletich protégé into submission with elbows on the ground at UFC 104 in October.
“He’s got good wrestling,” Sotiropoulos said. “He’s a tough, durable fighter with great submissions. I’m preparing for him like I prepare for all my fights. I’m cross-training, working my stand-up, working my grappling. I’m covering all my bases.”
Sotiropoulos does not foresee himself suffering Fisher’s fate should Stevenson put him on his back during their three-round tilt.
“I have to deal with the fight no matter where it goes,” he said. “If it goes there, I’ll deal with it. I need to keep to my game plan and out-strike, outwrestle and out-grapple this guy.”
Sotiropoulos has never been stopped in 13 professional bouts, though he was knocked unconscious by Tom Speer in the semi-finals of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He has not competed since he submitted Jason Dent with a second-round armbar at UFC 106 three months ago. His focus now rests squarely on Stevenson.
“I take it one fight at a time,” Sotiropoulos said. “I can’t really look past that. I need to beat Joe Stevenson. I want to beat him convincingly.”