After selling its last event with enmity, Zuffa is hoping to sell UFC 115 with love.
The mutual respect was palpable and, at times, downright gushing Friday as three legends and, well, a UFC fan boy gathered to promote the event. Former UFC champions Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin and former Pride Grand Prix champion Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic spoke of professionalism, sportsmanship, and respecting their opponents. Relative newcomer Pat Barry, on the other hand, was absolutely giddy to be on the same card as his heroes.
“Mirko, I wasn’t joking about getting that autograph,” Barry said. “I really mean it.”
UFC 115 will be the first Zuffa event in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Despite misgivings from local politicians and media, tickets for the event were gone within 30 minutes of presale – a UFC record.
The card was supposed to feature Liddell versus Tito Ortiz after a season of hyping the bout on “The Ultimate Fighter,” but Ortiz pulled out with a neck injury in March and Franklin stepped into his place. Instead of a grudge match, the UFC gets two well-liked fighters who like each other.
Some could argue that Filipovic and Barry make an odd choice as a co-main event. CroCop hasn’t beaten a highly regarded fighter since 2006 and Barry hasn’t yet fought one.
Here are the condensed thoughts of the fighters from Friday’s press conference:
A former light heavyweight champion, “The Iceman” was once the most popular and feared fighter in the UFC. But the 40-year-old’s star is fading. Liddell (21-7) has lost four of his last five bouts. After losing to now-champion Maurico “Shogun” Rua at UFC 97, UFC president Dana White said Liddell should retire. He has not fought since, a layoff of nearly 14 months.
On his conditioning – “I’ve been in camp since April 1. I’ve been going a long time and feeling great. I used to get out of shape in the off-season and spend most of my camp getting in shape. This time, I stayed in shape. I’ve been working since November. I’ve kept my weight down since September when I made the bet with Dana about getting my weight down to 215.”
On fighting Franklin – “I respect Rich. He is a bigger challenge than Tito for sure, so that motivates me. He is a better striker, you have to stay on your toes. I have to show up in shape or I’m going to pay for it.”
On fighting Tito – “I made my case clear to Dana. If he comes back, I think he should have to fight me. We will see.”
On ring rust – “My timing is on. I’m in great shape and ready to go. I’ll let you know after the fight.”
On boxing coach Howard Davis – “He is good at defense and getting in and getting out. We are known for power. It’s a yin-yang kind of thing. I’ve always believed the best defense is a good offense, so it’s good to (have Davis’ perspective).”
On retirement – “It’s not where my focus is. My sole focus is getting ready to fight Rich. I’ll wait until after the fight to think about that.”
The former middleweight champion has been bouncing between weight divisions since his second loss to current champion Anderson Silva at UFC 77. Since then, “Ace” has fought five times: twice at light heavyweight, once at middleweight and twice at a 195-pound catchweight. Franklin (26-5) lost at 205 pounds to Dan Henderson during UFC 93. The 35-year-old is coming off a loss to Vitor Belfort at 195 pounds during UFC 103.
On taking the fight – “It was a Wednesday evening and Dana called me and informed me Tito pulled out because of an injury. And so he asked if I could come out to Vegas and coach on the show. There were two things I wanted to know: Is Tito still going to be there? Did you check with Chuck and his camp to make sure they are cool with this fight? Dana said Chuck was a professional and I said whatever you need me to do, I’ll do.”
On timing – “I was looking for some time off after the Wanderlei (Silva) fight (UFC 99) last year. After the 100 show, the UFC left themselves kind of barren with no one to headline. So they asked if I would take 103 and I said yes. Since then the UFC called a couple times, but I said no. This was about the time I wanted to jump back in. The timing was perfect. June would have been about the right time frame for me anyway.”
On fighting Liddell – “If you look at mine and Chuck’s track record, we like to put on exciting fights. I don’t think I ever would have sought after a fight with Chuck Liddell. When you have an opportunity to fight someone like Chuck. it’s not something you can turn down.”
On fighting at 205 pounds – “If there was a 195-pound weight class, it would be great for me. It takes a lot of effort (to make weight at 185). I realize at 205, I am a smaller fighter. I fought Wanderlei at 195. I fought Henderson at 205, but he is a smaller 205-pounder. I haven’t had to face someone who was significantly stronger.”
On chasing a title – “It’s always a goal. Its nice to put on some big fights and its great fighting Chuck, but basically, these are the things you want to move past and start working towards a title.”
On the Belfort loss – “Looking back at the tapes of that fight, I didn’t fight well. Honestly, that fight was lost six weeks before the fight began. When you walk into the gym and start looking at the clock and counting down the minutes until you leave, that’s never a good thing.“
The former Croatian policeman is one of the most feared kickboxers in the world. Filipovic (26-7-2 MMA) beat several former and future champions in K-1 and then moved to Japan’s Pride FC and won the grand prix. He was hailed as one of the UFC’s highest-profile signings ever, but fizzled, losing two of three during his first UFC stint in 2007. The 35-year-old returned to the UFC in 2009 and is 2-1 since.
On training with a cage – “I have a UFC cage inside my house. Fighting in the cage is fighting in the cage, it’s not a ring. There are so many small details I wasn’t aware about.”
On his fans – “There will be a lot of Croatian flags in Vancouver. What fighter could wish more than a good opponent and an excellent audience?”
On Barry – “I’ve never met Pat but I like the guy and not because he said I was one of his favorite fighters. I like him because he’s very polite. I don’t like that tough attitude in the press conference, spitting on each other. This is just a sport. Patrick will stay in the stand-up position and it will be a good stand-up fight. He is a good fighter. He’s very fast. A good striker.
On striking vs. grappling – “I entered the world of MMA as a striker and I always wanted to keep the fight in a stand-up position. With respect (to grapplers), stand-up fighting will always be more exciting than ground fighting. People will always prefer to see fights finished by a punch or a kick than by a choke or by ground-and-pound.”
On his leg – “My leg is finally recovered. Now it is one and one-half years since I had the operation and it is OK. If you noticed, I didn’t even try to do a kick with Mostapha Al-Turk (at UFC 99). I didn’t try or I tried only once with Junior Dos Santos (at UFC 103) because I didn’t feel very stable. It was my decision to enter the cage and accept the fight, but thank god it’s behind me now.”
Barry gets a rare chance to elevate his name and career overnight. A former kickboxer and K-1 veteran, the 30-year-old is just 5-1 in MMA. He is 2-1 in the UFC and coming off a victory over Antoni Hardonk (another kickboxer, see a pattern?) at UFC 104.
On being a CroCop fan – “I had a poster of Mirko on my wall. He was on the top-five list of scariest guys on the planet. This was a guy I idolized. He was and still is one of my top-five favorite kickboxers on earth. Who in their right mind with the amount of experience I have can walk up to CroCop and shake his hand like he is just a regular guy? He’s not. It’s amazing.”
On CroCop’s recent lackluster performances – “I blame Mirko for the level of evolution in MMA. He caused the rest of us to evolve. We had no choice but to get better. There has always been striking in MMA, but when CroCop came into MMA his level was astounding. And being left handed, he stepped in with different angles, a different style of striking, different levels of aggression and power. Also training for wrestling & jiu-jitsu, hes one of those guys like Chuck Liddell who is impossible to get to the ground. So if you can’t get him to the ground, what are you going to do?”
On the perception that CroCop’s career is waning – “CroCop is still the man he’s always been. He’s still the monster he’s always been, but because of him other guys had to get better to survive. He’s not older, slower, weaker – nothing. Everyone has just gotten better. I’ve had arguments with people about this.”
On the future – “I never look at any fights that I have like I’m launching my career. I have to take every fight one at a time. I had a long kickboxing career but I’ve had three UFC fights on the undercard and now my fourth fight is Mirko CorCop. I must be doing something right. Someone likes what I am doing. I have no idea what will happen. I have to keep myself grounded and not look past what will happen. I might win. I might get kicked in the neck and die. My limit is the fight.”