This was part of a telephone conference that I took part in for UFC 68; where I was the only one to ask Randy Couture as to whether he was really coming back to fight, or just doing it to top up his pension. Needless to say, things got a bit frosty.
Fighters magazine was the only UK martial arts magazine involved in this invite-only teleconference , so we can guarantee that you won’t be getting the full low-down in any of the other wannabe magazines out there!
Present at the teleconference were some of the biggest names in the UFC, namely Dana White, Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Rich Franklin and Jason MacDonald. Fighters took the time to interview all of them.
First off I spoke to Dana White and asked what he felt about UFC 68 due to its amazing line-up, “Obviously we’re very excited about the card, the return of Rich Franklin, Matt Hughes and Randy Couture.
One of the things that I think makes a great fight, is that everywhere I go, everyone is talking about Tim and Randy. Can Randy Couture come back from retirement? Can Randy Couture keep Tim Sylvia down? Can Randy Couture get inside his reach? A lot of the so-called experts in the sport say that Tim hits too hard, his reach is too big and Randy Couture has a hard time fighting bigger guys and knocking them out, I think that’s what makes such a good fight, having so many different opinions about the fight and everybody’s talking about it.”
Obviously Couture, coming out of retirement to fight a guy seven inches taller than him, is going to be the talk of the town, but looking past that, there is another fight that I feel will be talked about just as much and that’s Franklin versus MacDonald.
“Rich Franklin’s obviously coming back to a hard fight after a devastating loss to Anderson Silva, to taking on a guy who’s on a roll right now. This is the fight to see if the old Rich is back or if this kid [Ed’s Note: Macdonald] is going to keep on rolling.”
Couture is one of the UFC’s most popular fighters with a lot of dedicated fans out there wanting nothing more than to have him continue to fight forever. Knowing what he means to the fans it was interesting to hear what he meant to Dana.
“He’s one of the pioneers of the sport, one of our greatest champions ever not only in the Heavyweight division but in the Light Heavyweight division, when he retired he was the guy we were going to keep around anyway in some capacity. I was at the Videogame Awards and he called me that night and told me he was contemplating coming out of retirement which was no surprise to me. When he told me he was retiring I said it was bull—- anyway.
I mean even after his loss he’s the number two Heavyweight in the world. I certainly still consider him the number two Heavyweight in the world.”
It was clear that Dana held Couture in high esteem and that he still had a lot of respect for him. Respect is something that is very important for fighters, since if no-one respects you, they’re less likely to actually want to see you fight. One fighter who definitely has fan and respect issues is Couture’s opponent, Tim Sylvia. With these problems in mind I asked Dana whether Tim Sylvia got his due as a Heavyweight Champion.
“No he doesn’t. Tim is a very tough guy. He has knocked a lot of people out. I think it’s the way that Tim represents himself sometimes. Obviously if you’re flipping fans off (Ed’s note: Giving the finger) you’re not going to have any of them, but as far as being a Heavyweight, if you look at a lot of the MMA websites and their rankings I think it’s bull—-. They’ve got him ranked down number five and stuff like that.”
Clearly Dana isn’t one to mind his p’s and q’s, nor is he afraid to speak his mind. With the UFC starting to go global (again, remember the last time they came over here?) we moved on to discuss Japan and his views on the MMA scene over there. He was more than happy to share his views saying, “There’s this whole mystique about the guys that fight in Japan being better than the guys that fight in America, with every day another show happens proving this is bull—-.Tim Sylvia is without a doubt the top one, two or three Heavyweight fighter in the world and now, finally, we’re getting into a position where we’re starting to go after international talent. We were never in a position to do this before because it didn’t make sense in our business model. Now we’re going global we’re going to get these fighters to prove who the best fighters in the world are and Tim Sylvia will have his chance now to get the respect he deserves.”
The fans in the United Kingdom are understandably excited about the UFC coming over to England and it was good to hear Dana’s thoughts on his trip over for the official launch on Friday 23rd February, “My trip to England was fantastic and I’m very excited about the show out there.” His enthusiasm was more than obvious as he continued, “Ticket sales are going fantastic and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
With all the media exposure that the UFC is getting on channels such as Spike TV and Bravo, there are still many MMA fans that are being left out due to the fact that these channels aren’t free and come as part of cable or Sky packages. Since the UFC is coming over to England (and it seems that they’re most certainly here to stay) I asked whether he expected the BBC to sign the UFC.
“We’re over there talking to everybody right now. Our current partner is Bravo and they’ve been a very good partner for us. I don’t think it will be in the near future but I do think that in 5 years we’ll see the UFC on all major networks.” This would be good news indeed if they truly are able to pull it off.
There is one other large MMA show in the UK that has seen a lot of airtime recently and that’s Cage Rage, who is currently also the dominant MMA show. Having heard his views on ‘upstarts’ such as EliteXC it was interesting to hear what he felt about Cage Rage and whether he felt they’d ever be able to rival the UFC on a local basis.
“I don’t really know much about Cage Rage. I went to one of their events. They’re nice guys and I had a great time at their show. I don’t know how they run their business but they’ll never match us over there. Cage Rage is a big show over in the UK but we’re the biggest show in the World.
I don’t think they’ll ever match us in production scales over there. They have a good show and if they’re running the business and making money that’s excellent. I need shows like that as they encourage new guys to come in, get experience, do well and then move on to the big show, the UFC.”
We continued on the theme of upstarts and what his views on New Era Fighting offering $1m dollars to beat Kimo were.
“My god, what’s the new one called? Isn’t that a hat company? Holy —-, we’ve got EliteXC which is the —- I think killed Anna Nichole Smith now, we’ve got New Era hats? Anyone who can beat Kimo? I’m in New York City right now and there are fifty thousand people downstairs who could beat Kimo!” Fortunately he doesn’t seem to have seen their website as I can’t imagine what his comments would have been regarding the fighters who have successfully tried out for the show.
Having stated that he held PRIDE in what was (for Dana), high esteem, he was more than vehement about his thoughts on Silva’s loss, “I’m p—– off that he didn’t lose to Chuck. They threw away one of the biggest fights in MMA history. Not only are they number two but they’re not the brightest bulbs on the porch either.”
Dana’s definitely not pulling his punches in this interview and it seems that he has a gripe against PRIDE. The reason for this was that PRIDE seemed to take a few shots at the UFC for backing down on the match-up with Chuck Liddell against Wanderlai Silva, as well as saying that they’re the world game and the UFC wasn’t. Whilst this was obviously annoying him did it surprise him at all?
“No. When you’re number two that’s the kind of —- you need to do. You don’t see me doing that at my events because I’m number one.
I’ve been trying to make that Wanderlei Silva fight for Chuck for years,” he said. “And that got these goofs running around saying I wouldn’t make the fight and I’m the reason it won’t happen. That’s bull—-.”
Randy Couture also seemed to have taken exception saying “I was at that event and they took several shots at the UFC and I think that if you want to tell everybody you have the best fighters in the world then you probably don’t.” Ouch, take that PRIDE.
The main reason that there are so many shows out there, and that so many new shows keep springing up can mainly be attributed to the success of the UFC and is often motivated by nothing more than greed. With the UFC being the phenomenon and market leader it is, I was keen to learn why Dana thought it was such a success, “For the first time in our company’s history we’ve five shows on sale at the same time and almost all of them are sold out both in country and over in England.
The reason is because this is the most exciting combat sport in the world and if you’ve never been to a live event it’s awesome, it’s amazing, there’s a lot of energy and it’s fun. These guys come out and give everything they’ve got and I don’t mean to smash boxing, which it sounds like I’m doing, but if you go to a boxing event from the very beginning to the end it’s very uneventful. We sell tickets.”
Over the last month or so there has been a media campaign of sorts heralding the rise of MMA and the demise of boxing, “I think there are a lot of reasons as to why boxing’s on a decline. Two of the biggest promoters in the last forty years have done nothing to secure the future of the sport. It’s been about how much they can put in their pocket right here and now. You’ve seen how we run our business. We’re dumping tons of money back into this business and helping to grow, expand and move into other countries. For boxing to be saved it needs someone like us to come in and start doing something for the future.
Who’s the next big star for boxing? I think the La Hoya versus Mayweather fight will do very well but after that there isn’t that much left.”
Frank Warren doesn’t seem to agree however, stating on the BBC website “I don’t believe it is a long term threat in this country and although it has been quite successful in the States, time will tell.”
That said, there’s always the risk of the UFC over-reaching, so did Dana think that it was as big as it could get. Knowing Dana’s drive and ambition this was obviously a daft question to ask in hindsight. “We haven’t even scratched the surface! People say it’s mainstream but it’s not even close to mainstream. The only thing that has kept boxing alive is the Hispanic market, we’re just starting to go after the Hispanic market and internationally right now we air in over 150 countries whether PPV or free TV. We’re now starting to take the live show to these countries starting with England. We have so much work to do it’s ridiculous.”
Ridiculous it might be, but it’s more than working for them now. However, fighters can fight only so many times before they start underperforming and with all of his plans, does Dana really think they have enough fighters to carry it off?
“Absolutely, but I’m probably going to have to go after a couple more guys and get some more talent. If we find we don’t, we’ll get more guys, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m getting everybody, they’re all going to be with us.”
Dana also includes Fedor in that statement, emphasising his point just in case not everyone’s totally clear about it, “I’ve said it time and time again, we’re after the best fighters in the world. I’ll have him someday.”
Dana’s clearly not shy of controversy and Tim Sylvia is certainly a controversial fighter, especially as it seems that he is partial to giving the finger to the audience, perhaps one opponent at a time is too easy for him. Dana was obviously not happy with the way Tim acted in that case but nor did he think that it had had a negative impact either, “I think that in the fight game it can go either way for you. People either love you or they hate you. But as long as they are talking about you that’s all that matters. It’s not like I have a million fans out there. People hate me too but it is what it is. What I don’t like though is my guys flipping people off.
Tim and I have had our moments and I’ve had my moments with just about every guy that we have. I think that this is a big, big fight for Tim and Randy is one of the most popular champions we have. I think that for Tim, going and fighting the good fight and beating Randy would be good for him.”
Whenever a fighter tries to make a comeback from retirement everyone asks the usual ‘will they/ won’t they make it’ and with the UFC having signed Couture for four fights, would he still be viable if he lost against Sylvia?
“The thing that is smart about Randy Couture is that he lost to Chuck Liddell who is the biggest super star in the sport and the best fighter at 205lbs. He’s not holding back and going after some chump he’s going after the Heavyweight Champion. Obviously it depends on how the fight goes but I don’t think that it will tarnish him to lose against a 7′ monster when he’s been at 205lbs for a number of years now. I think it’s more about what Randy wants to do after the fight.”