UFC 115 Press Conference Notes: “It’ll Be Like Woodstock On Saturday”
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The locals fearing a barbarian horde were met with a kindler, gentler, more loving UFC on Thursday as the fighters, UFC president Dana White and even Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson took turns sharing laughs and mutual admiration.
“It’ll be like Woodstock on Saturday,” White mused.
UFC 115 takes over General Motors Place on Saturday. The event had the fastest sell-out in UFC history (30 minutes), but almost never happened. A variety of issues, not the least of which was the lack of a sanctioning body and the usual misperceptions surrounding cage fighting, almost pulled the plug on the Vancouver event.
“Even after 10 years, this is one of the sports that still has to prove itself. People are sometimes afraid (that) the UFC is coming to town and there will be riots. People are afraid of THIS event? Go to a Red Sox-Yankees game. Go see the Raiders play sometime.”
The main event features former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell versus former middleweight champion Rich Franklin. In the co-main event, Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic fights Pat Barry.
Chuck Liddell is headlining Saturday, but it wasn’t so long ago that Dana White was unilaterally announcing “The Iceman’s” retirement. Following Liddell’s loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 97 in April 2009 – his third knockout loss in five fights, White said the one-time UFC poster boy was finished.
Not so fast.
Liddell had no plans to retire. Buoyed by a spot on “Dancing with the Stars” and a shot at hated rival Tito Ortiz, Liddell trained harder than ever before and stayed out of the nightclubs. Liddell looked svelte on Thursday and White explained his past reasoning.
“My biggest issue with Chuck was his lifestyle,” White said. “He became literally the biggest MMA fighter in the world, but he wasn’t living (right). He has turned himself around and got himself in fantastic shape.
“He (used to be) a zombie. You can’t go out and party every night and roll into a fight. It doesn’t work.”
But after the television camera’s left, White changed his tune, expressing doubts about Liddell’s future and chin.
“My big beef with (Liddell) is why,” White said. “He has everything. I think it should end. If this (fight) goes like a few of his previous fights, I think he would make the call (about retirement).”
But White added that another brutal knockout might force his hand.
“We will see,” he said. “If not this fight, then maybe the next one.”
Enter the comedy duo of Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic and Pat Barry. The heavyweight kickboxers will fight Saturday, but Barry has been outspoken about heroic admiration for CroCop and the normally stoic Croatian has also taken a shine to Barry.
“He is an amazing guy,” Filipovic said. “I met him at the hotel yesterday ad we talked. He is a really nice person.”
As the press conference started, Pat Barry fiddled with the microphone, laughed to himself and even mumbled in a daze while eyes were elsewhere.
“I am honored just to be sitting up here with these three guys, because that means that I am almost LIKE them,” he said.
After the press conference, CroCop and Barry hugged and exchanged genuine and, given the circumstances, odd laughter.
“I can tell Mirko is uncomfortable with how Pat Barry feels about him,” White said. “I don’t think he has had an opponent talk to him like that.”
Surprisingly, CroCop and Barry had the room reeling with their comic stylings. CroCop is the straight man. Barry, well… “I am a buffoon.”
“If I beat CroCop on Saturday, I’m going to go home and stare out the window for two years,” Barry said.
“(That can happen) even if he loses,” CroCop added. “If I land a high kick, he might stare out the window for two years too.”
CroCop sported a long, fresh, but superficial scratch on his forehead. When asked about it, the former Croatian policeman deadpanned, “I was training late last night. Two ladies came and they scratched me. I’m OK, but they are not.”
Barry played the role of vicarious hero to the hilt: “I’m like a kid up here. I don’t know whether to use the bathroom or throw-up. I’m shaking my head to see if I was awake. All my childhood dreams of being a ninja (are) really coming true.”
However, Barry grew serious when confronted with the tactics of fighting.
“I know it will be him or me,” he said. “I have seen what he can do and I don’t want to feel any of that.”
Once an oddity, Canadian events will become commonplace if White and UFC Canada honcho Tom Wright have anything to say about it.
“Canada is very important to us,” White said. “Frank, Lorenzo and I didn’t see this coming, but Canada has been a huge market for us.”
Wright said that he hopes for three UFC’s and an unspecified number of Ultimate Fight Nights in Canada annually.
“You don’t have to be a geography major to see that (Vancouver) is where one might end up.”
But Toronto, by far the largest Canadian metropolis, remains the jewel in the UFC’s eye. Ontario, however, has not sanctioned the UFC. Negotiations are on going.
“Sometimes when you put a time line, you interfere with the process,” Wright said. “We are going to be mindful and respectful of the process.”
Vancouver had problems of its own and, if not for mayor Robertson, might not have hosted the UFC at all. White admitted that this event cost more to insure than others, but declined to provide a number. Vancouver Sun scribe Yvonne Zacharias then put the heat on Robertson to cough up some numbers.
Robertson, who had taken a seat directly in front of Zacharias, turned to her, gave a disapproving glance and wearily trudged to the main stage.
“I don’t have the details about the specific dollars involved,” Robertson said. “It was a complex deal.”