European MMA fighters like Dennis Siver
don't often get the chance to fight in front of a home crowd. The UFC made its first trip to continental Europe just last year, and this is only the organization's second event in Germany, where the reception to the sport has been mixed.
That's why when Siver, a German-Russian lightweight who's been with the UFC on and off (though mostly on) since 2007, takes on British "Ultimate Fighter" finalist Andre Winner
at UFC 122
on Saturday, it's a fight that comes with a special kind of pressure. When your countrymen rarely get to see you ply your trade, you certainly don't want to have them pack an arena just to see you get beat up by a citizen from one of your nation's soccer rivals.
But despite all that added pressure, as Siver told MMA Fighting through a translator this week, the irony is that he's far less famous as a fighter when he's in his own country.
"We are more well-known in America than here in Germany because the media is not behind us," Siver said. "It's a big problem for us, with [the lack of a UFC] TV [deal], but maybe one day we hope that we're famous here in Germany too. But at the moment they know us more in America than here at home."
But that's not to say that the portion of the German populace that loves the sport enough to head to Oberhausen for Saturday's UFC event won't be fully behind Siver. He knows that, and so does Winner, who's under no illusions that he'll have much of a British cheering section in attendance.
"I expect him to be very hyped up because of the crowd out here in Germany," Winner told MMA Fighting. "The crowd doesn't really affect me, but I've never really been in a situation with the crowd really against me. But you don't think too much about the crowd. I've got Dennis Siver in front of me, trying to take my head off. I don't have much time to worry about the crowd."
Instead, Winner said, he's more worried about erasing the memory of his last fight, a plodding decision loss to Nik Lentz
If you want to know what the UFC brass thought of Lentz's decision to keep Winner pressed against the fence for three straight rounds, you need only look at what the fight did for each man's career. After losing, Winner is on the televised portion of this event against a tough local favorite. Lentz, on the other hand, is slated for a dark match on the unaired prelims of next weekend's UFC 123.
Does that make it a hollow victory for Lentz and an unimportant loss for Winner?
"I guess you could look at it like that. I mean, well, yeah, I think I would look at it like that," Winner chuckled. "Obviously, it's not really crowd-pleasing or eye-catching, the way in which he won. I didn't expect it. I knew he came from a wrestling background and I thought he'd try and take me down. I just didn't expect him to push me against the fence and try to stall it out for as long as he did. I expected him to be a lot busier."
With Siver, Winner said, he expects a much different fight. Siver rarely shies away from striking exchanges, and isn't afraid to take a few shots in order to deliver some of his own. Still, Winner said, once Siver realizes he's at a disadvantage on the feet he may change his mind about wanting to stand and trade.
"I think I do have a speed advantage," said Winner. "I don't think he's scared to stand up and strike, but I think he'll try and get me to the ground and smother me once the fight's not going his way."
That's one charge Siver won't deny, as it turns out.
"Maybe he's right. Of course, we'll try to bring him down to the mat," Siver said. "But if it doesn't work, we don't care about that because I'm a professional kickboxer too. I don't care whether the fight ends up standing and on the ground."
Wherever it goes, on paper this looks like an early Fight of the Night contender, and if so it would be Siver's second in three fights. Maybe then the German public would recognize that they already have a few good fighters in their midst, even if they rarely get to see them.