LOS ANGELES-A little more than three years have passed since Ultimate Fighting Championship touched down its airbus of a traveling show on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s back for the rematch with LA fans.
“We’re really looking forward to re-energize UFC,” said Michael Roth, the bigwig for AEG entertainment that handles the Staples Center.
With UFC 104 comes Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida the mixed martial arts fighting machine with his blend of karate, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and all around fighting skills and supporting him as an opponent will be fellow Brazilian Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Machida will defend his UFC light heavyweight title on Oct. 24.
It will also be shown on pay-per-view.
UFC is banking this show will fare better than the first landing that basically crashed in terms of its own usual measure of success. Several hundred fans, mostly Latino, lined the gated off press stage. This time around Latino fans know a lot more about the sport though the absence of television cameras showed LA media hasn’t gotten the hint.
That first show in 2006 featured MMA legend Royce Gracie looking to topple then UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. In a one-sided war Hughes overwhelmed Gracie and the fans under whelmed the seats. In an arena that sits 20,000 less than 13,000 showed up that night in 2006.
But that was then, this is now.
Though Los Angeles is renowned for its support of pro boxing, in the last few years the MMA fever has broken through the LA County lines much like the Swine flu. Only these symptoms are happiness not grief.
“We truly believe UFC can be the biggest sport in the world,” said Jennifer Wenk, UFC Director of Communications, with a slip of the tongue. She means MMA, not UFC.
Hyperbole or not, for insurance UFC has brought Mexican-American heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez to draw rabid whoever-is-Mexican type of fans to the arena come October.
Velasquez, a large 240 pound behemoth from Northern California, comes with solid MMA credentials in the form of a college wrestling background. That’s always good when it comes to fighting in the Octagon.
The former Arizona State wrestler is slated to fight big Ben Rothwell, a heavyweight veteran of both the now-defunct International Fight League and Affliction. It’s a healthy test for both fighters.
“I’m happy to be fighting for UFC,” said Rothwell, whose experience could prove troublesome for the very athletic but inexperienced Velasquez. “Cain is a good fighter.”
The main event has Machida against Rua.
Machida showed up in a sharp suit and tie while everyone else arrived in casual attire under the 90-plus degree heat. Still, the champion looked cool as ice.
“I’m training hard for this fight,” said Machida (15-0), who coincidentally sat close to Rua on the jet from Brazil to Los Angeles. “We’re very good friends, but we’re professionals.”
In other words, once the buzzer goes off somebody’s eating crow.
Rua (18-3) remained calm throughout the press event. Perhaps he was a little surprised by a section of the crowd that shouted in unison “Sho-gun! Sho-gan!” He didn’t know what to expect in a boxing town. More than anything the fans gave a preview of what to expect come October. This will be a sell out.