Sunday, March 11, 2007

A new form of boss bashing

In this corner, fighting out of Huntington Beach, Calif., and coming in at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, with a MMA record of 16-5, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy and former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.

And in this corner, fighting out of Las Vegas, and coming in at 5-11, 196 pounds, with a record of ... um ... 0-0 ... the UFC president and ... um ... 37-year-old former amateur boxer ... Dana White?

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? In an event akin to David Stern duking it out with Kobe Bryant, or Bud Selig trading punches with Barry Bonds, UFC president Dana White does intend to step into the ring with Tito Ortiz on March 24 for a boxing match the two privately arranged when White convinced the former champ to return to the UFC last year.

As you read here in September, the bout was written into Ortiz’ contract after he and White smoothed the bumps that had led to Ortiz’ departure from the UFC. They were working together again, but that didn’t mean they’d completely forgotten their differences. The three-round “exhibition” was supposed to have taken place last year, before Ortiz’ much-anticipated title fight with light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell. But when White went to the Nevada State Boxing Commission to get an OK for the match, the board told him no way.

“It looked like I wasn’t going to get the license,” said White, who once ran a boxing gym in South Boston. “They saw it as a mismatch. I have no pro fights and Tito is Tito. He’s in phenomenal shape. He looks amazing.”

White’s been filming his entire training regimen for a Spike TV show, so he was able to produce footage for the board showing his sparring sessions and convincing the members that he wasn’t completely insane. The board finally green-lighted it.

So on March 24, at the UFC training center, the two will privately box in front of friends, family, UFC employees -- and cameras.

The scheduling delay actually helped White get in better shape. His old Southie boxing pal, Jimmy Gifford, has been with him since June, hammering him into form. White’s no dummy, he realizes if this was a mixed martial arts bout, “(Ortiz) would rip my (expletive) head off. But it’s not, it’s boxing.”

So what’s in it for the UFC fan? Well, the week of April 9, Spike TV will air “The Dana vs. Tito Countdown,” a documentary about the up-and-down relationship between the two men, complete with a retrospective and footage of the two training for the match. The following week, the entire three-round exhibition will be aired on

“I feel good,” White said. “I’m not saying I’m going to go in and knock Tito off. But I’ve got a good chin and I guarantee this: He’s not going to knock me out or stop me. We’re going to go at it.”

The Couture Tour

Newly crowned heavyweight champion Randy Couture has handled many questions during his current media tour celebrating his win over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 a week ago. There was one query, however, he might not have been anticipating.

That was when his 4-year-old son asked him when he was “going to fight Cro Cop.”

“I don’t know where he got that from,” Couture said with a laugh.

But UFC fans are born young and what Couture’s pre-schooler was wondering is the same thing on just about everyone’s mind. When will Couture enter The Octagon to take on Croation strongman Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic?

“I suspect, depending on how Cro Cop does in April (at UFC 70 vs. Gabriel Gonzaga in Manchester, England), the earliest would be in June or July. I think the winner of that fight would be my next opponent.

“(Cro Cop) is one of the best strikers in the world. I’m very excited about the prospect of matching up against him.”

Couture, who said he will return to training tomorrow, is enjoying the ride right now, basking in the glow of the sport’s growing popularity - a product of the foundation he helped to establish over the years. He’s had numerous public appearances and media gigs, and enjoyed adulation all along the way.

“I’ve seemed to inspire the older guys, the over 38-39-40 crowd,” Couture, 43,said. “Somehow I’ve redeemed the guys in that spot. Traditionally, they’re guys who may feel they don’t have it anymore. They’re going through a midlife crisis thing. I’ve gotten a huge response from them, and the guys in the military. It was important to me to dedicate the fight to the military.”

UFC 70 on Spike

White said that UFC 70, which features an amazing international card, including Cro Cop-Gonzaga, will air live April 21 on Spike TV so that American audiences can watch it free.

Also on the card: Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic, Andrei Arlovski vs. Fabricio Werdum and Forrest Griffin vs. Lyoto Machida. ...

The cast for “The Ultimate Fighter 5” -- all lightweight fighters -- will be released at the end of the week. The show, which has already been completed, will debut on April 5 at 10 p.m. on Spike.

“It’s (expletive) awesome,” said White. “It’s the best season ever done. It’s only one weight class so there are no friends. Everybody’s going after the same contract. These guys are crazy. The reality is much better and the fights are much better too.”

In addition, the UFC will air a live card right before the show, from the Pearl in Las Vegas. On that card, Dover’s Kenny Florian takes on veteran Dokonjonosuke Mishima. It will be Florian’s first match since he lost the UFC lightweight title bout against Sean Sherk in October.

“He’s fought some of the best in the world and beaten them,” Florian said of Mishima. “We’re both coming off losses so we’re both looking to reestablish ourselves.”


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