Tuesday, February 27, 2007

England expects, UFC vows to deliver

By Ant Evans

If you’re a fight fan who lives in the UK - or even if you reside in the UK, period - and haven’t spent the last week in bed with the flu, you’ll know that the UFC is back in town.

Big time.

On radio, television, newspapers, magazines, websites, billboards and even taxi cabs, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been everywhere you go in England, spreading the world that UFC 70 will emanate from the MEN Arena in Manchester in the north of England.

It has taken five long years for the UFC to return to Great Britain, but with the London office now operational, half a dozen UK-based cards are planned between now and Christmas.

For UFC President Dana White, the official UFC 70 announcement at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester last Friday was the culmination of a lot of hard work and more than a little patience.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I am to have the UFC back in the UK,” the UFC President told the assembled British media. “It’s taken a long time for us to get back here but I promise the UK fans that now we are back, we are going to do this right.”

Wearing a t-shirt with the Union Flag emblazed on the chest, White vowed: “Starting April 21, the UK fans will get to see everything that the fans back home in the United States see. Every champion, every title, every top star will be fighting over here at some point - the UK will be getting shows every bit as big and exciting as the American fans get.

“We‘ve been away for five years but we are looking to hit the ground running now.”

Aptly named ‘Nations Collide’, UFC 70 will showcase the some of the best MMA talent from around the globe in the Octagon.

The main event sees Croatian striking sensation Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic taking on Gabriel Gonzaga, who is undefeated in his three previous UFC appearances.

It is a high-stakes match-up, as White explained: “Providing he wins this fight, Cro Cop will go on to fight the winner of (this Saturday’s) UFC heavyweight title fight between Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture.

“But Gonzaga has a shot of pulling off the upset. He‘s got some great striking ability himself and it would be very interesting to see if he decides to try and take Cro Cop down. This is a great opportunity for Gonzaga too.”

Any one of three other announced fights could be considered the chief support bout, but local interest will be firmly focused on the triumphant return of Michael Bisping in what will be the British striker’s first fight on British soil since 2005.

‘The Count’ takes on veteran Elvis Sinosic at 205lbs (or 14stone 9lbs)

“Sinosic is a harder fight than his record suggests,” Bisping said. “But no way have I worked my arse off in America for 18 months just to come back over here and get my arse kicked in front of my own people when all this attention is on me.

“Elvis will be leaving the building very early on, believe me.”

Another TUF alumni who will be making his way to the MEN on April 21 is season one 205lbs winner Forrest Griffin.

The Athens, Georgia native looked to be the light heavyweight title challenger in-waiting, and was perhaps the first in line for the winner of the December 30 Chuck Liddell v Tito Ortiz II super fight before he was shockingly stopped via strikes by Keith Jardine in the first round.

Now on the comeback trail, instead of what some promoters would euphemistically dub a ‘rehabilitation fight’, Griffin returns at UFC 70 to face dangerous counter-striking specialist Lyoto Machida.

“Maybe I’ve got something to prove after my last fight,” Griffin said. “But I just go in there and fight my ass off and just see what happens. This is a hard fight, but, whatever, I’m looking forward to competing in England because the weather is beautiful, the food is just awesome and the girls are gorgeous. Well, actually, the girls are gorgeous but I made the rest up.”

Also confirmed for Nations Collide is former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski, who will be looking to get KO number two since losing the final two fights in his trilogy vs Tim Sylvia. The Pit Bull will front up against BJJ fighter Fabricio Werdum in another fight where it is difficult to be certain of a winner.

Not surprisingly, tickets are going fast.

UFC UK Division President Marshall Zelaznik said: “Ticket sales have been even better than a lot of our biggest US based cards. The pre-sales numbers were as high as they’ve ever been for any show in the US.”

And Zelaznik was keen to point out that, unlike UFC 38, this will not be a one-off trip to the UK for the UFC.

“I didn’t move my family over here for one show,” he said. “When we came here in 2002 we knew we’d planted a seed in the UK and even though we had to go back to the US to get things in order there, the UFC never gave up on the UK fans and the UK market. It took us a while to get back here, but now we’re really back in a major way.

“From the buzz we’ve created already - two months out - I think we could be looking at one of the most anticipated events in the history of our company.”

Zelaznik added: “The fans that are lucky enough to get a ticket will see a great show. When we were doing a production survey at the MEN, the (MEN) staff said they’d never seen a promoter with such a concern for the ticket buying fan, but that’s the way the UFC does things. There are no bad seats at a UFC event - and there will be no bad seats at UFC 70.”

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