When you think of Dana White as a promoter, the word conservative is not likely the first thing that pops into your head.
Conservative in this case doesn't mean political affiliation, but the bombastic blue jeans and T-shirt wearing president of the UFC has been part of an ownership group that has constantly taken big risks. They started by buying what seemed to be a dying promotion in the first place, and rolled the dice with its successes and failures.
But as big as some of the events have been, White has only once, on April 30, 2011, taken the risk of running a show in a stadium-sized location. And it's not as if UFC 129, at Rogers Centre in Toronto, taught him to approach such a show with care. The event ended up a landmark event and one of the high points in company history. Tickets sold as fast as they could be printed, with 55,724 fans in attendance and a $12.1 million gate. Officials at the Rogers Centre estimated, because of how many people wanted tickets, that had the building been big enough, the demand was there to sell more than 100,000 tickets.
That was hardly lost on people who run similar-sized buildings. There are plenty of stadiums in North America, such as the soon-to-open Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) in Arlington, Tex. that have contacted UFC about running major events. But when arenas aren't automatic sellouts, even with the biggest names, you can see the company's feeling that it's not about going to a stadium that wants UFC with a show, but having the a special fight at the right time to make a stadium the right place.
Aside from the dynamic of the debut in Toronto with a Georges St-Pierre championship defense, UFC has never felt it had the right attraction. The story of UFC and stadium shows is more like the proverbial big fish story, that great fight that got away, almost like there's a jinx involved.
The UFC at one point was looking at doing Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko when Lesnar was heavyweight champion, for Cowboys Stadium. But they could never get the Russian on board. The 2012 Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen fight was originally booked at a soccer stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but a late night law regarding outdoor events in the city and an inability to book a venue in Rio de Janeiro led to the fight being moved to Las Vegas. Much-talked about potential stadium attractions, most notably matches with Silva facing either St-Pierre or Jon Jones in battles of champions, have never come to fruition.
But White was using the word stadium on Saturday night, for a potential Brazil show. This was contingent that Silva beats Chris Weidman to win the middleweight title on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas, and he defends against Vitor Belfort.
Silva and Belfort are the two best-known fighters in the country where MMA is its strongest mainstream. Although MMA can trace its roots to big events in Brazil dating back to the 1920s, this current boom period started just under three years ago, with the first Silva vs. Belfort fight, which Silva won with a front kick. Belfort was a celebrity, between marrying a famous model, appearing in their version of "Big Brother," being a fighter and a national news story regarding the tragic kidnapping and death of his sister. Silva was not nearly as well-known, but has since become a household name, beating Belfort in a fight that drew incredible interest in the home land, and as UFC has grown.
Silva is favored to beat Weidman, but the fact Weidman is the champion and won the first encounter makes it far from a sure thing. Silva vs. Belfort at a soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro would seem like an attraction with minimal risk. White never hinted at going to a stadium should Weidman win, although Belfort going for the championship in Brazil against a guy who beat Silva twice is worthy of at least consideration.
Belfort's quick knockout win over Dan Henderson, the first time the iron-jawed future Hall of Famer has ever been stopped by knockout or TKO in his career, climaxed a four-day period of two televised shows on Fox Sports 1. Whether this much product is a good thing is very much debatable.
But as far as shows with fighters who mostly did not have big names, both shows couldn't have been better.
Wednesday night's Fight for the Troops was held in an aircraft hanger in Fort Campbell, Ky., as opposed to the usual major arena. It looked smaller than a typical UFC televised event. But as the show wore on, the location difference proved to be a huge positive.
The audience of almost exclusively military personnel, dressed in uniform, was as appreciative of the show as any UFC crowd. That wasn't a surprise. But there was a flip side that may not have been as expected.
It seemed, up and down the show, that the fighters had a different mentality. While all fighters want to please the crowd, the primary goal is to always win. Sometimes the best method to win makes for an exciting fight. Sometimes it doesn't. On this show, it just felt like the fighters had a different feel for the audience that spurred them on to not just win, but do something extra.
The best example of this was the third round of Dennis Bermudez vs. Steven Siler. Bermudez had clearly won the first two rounds, and was winning the third. He could have taken a low-risk approach in the final stanza. But instead, he was out there in the final seconds swinging wildly with Siler, who has real power, back-and-forth when perhaps the smart strategy with seconds left would be to take his win.
The sold out and rabid crowd of 10,565 fans at the Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil, on Saturday night, saw a dream night for people who like to see explosive endings.
Only two of the 11 fights went the distance, and seven were done in less than four minutes.
It was a week that a lot of fighters may have started to get on fans' radar. We'll look at how Fortunes changed for Five.
VITOR BELFORT - Belfort (24-10) hardly fits into the category of unknown. To say, at 36, he's having a career resurgence is an understatement. With his win over Henderson, Belfort is a strong candidate for 2013 Fighter of the Year. He's finished Henderson and Luke Rockhold in the first round with strikes, and Michael Bisping in the second, all set up by head kicks.
In doing so, he's picked up three best knockout bonuses.
None of this is without controversy. While Belfort is hardly the only fighter in UFC with a TRT exemption, he's the only one right now with a failed steroid test on his resume. The career turnaround and a body that has markedly changed over the years makes him a lightning rod of not whispers, but outright shouts as to whether it should be allowed with the idea whatever therapy he needs may be related to prior steroid use. In a sense getting a license to enhance himself, because he damaged himself to enhancing himself earlier in his career.
Still, based on what he's done in the cage, he was already deserving a title shot off his win over Rockhold. Saturday puts an exclamation mark next to it. Whether Silva wins and it becomes the biggest fight in the history of Brazil, or Weidman wins, it's still a pretty darn big fight.
It also looks to be the last chance for Belfort to fully realize the potential everyone though he had when he first burst on the scene at the age of 19, with four straight knockouts in less than 90 seconds.
Everyone going in knows the strategy regarding Belfort, who is one of the most dangerous one-round fighters in MMA history. The problem is it's rare anyone gets him into the deep waters, where he may still be vulnerable. He did little with Jon Jones after the first round, but he also took the fight late as a favor to UFC, and was going against one of the most talented fighters of all-time.
The last time he was in round three before that with a name opponent was his 2006 loss to Henderson, and that Belfort and this Belfort appear to be completely different individuals.
BRANDON THATCH - If you look at Thatch's record, the first thing you'd think of is something akin to a welterweight version of Shane Carwin. It's notable that Thatch and Carwin both come from Denver's Grudge Training Center, and both started their careers with a string of first-round knockouts.
Aside from losing his second fight more than five years ago, via split decision, Thatch (11-1), has nothing but fast finishes, seeing the 3:00 mark only once in the last five years. But the lesson of Carwin is that when he was finally taken to round two, he was a different fighter. Thatch's win over Paulo Thiago, his second in UFC, was against by far his toughest foe to date.
Thatch showed a good sense of balance, and strong kicks and knees, so powerful that Thiago tapped upon landing after a knee to the liver.
Even though Thiago had name wins over Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick, he is only 5-6 in UFC competition. He was the perfect level fighter to test Thatch on his way up. Now it's time to see what happens with a fighter the next level up.
Usually UFC would want to match him with someone coming off a win, but the kind of opponents that would really test his level that are available are almost all coming off losses, such as Jordan Mein, Erick Silva or Mike Pyle. A win there, and he's probably ready for some guys in the top 10.
ADRIANO MARTINS - Martins (25-6), who has been around the Brazilian circuit for nearly a decade, was a high-level Jiu Jitsu fighter, but he's got 11 wins by knockout.
In his UFC debut on Saturday night, he face Daron Cruickshank, a kickboxer, who he hurt standing in the first round, and dominated on the ground before winning with a straight armbar in the second round.
The former Jungle Fight champion looked physically large, and performed well in the kickboxing, wrestling and submission game against a solid mid-level lightweight. It was impressive enough to take notice. Perhaps either Bobby Green (21-5), Rustam Khabilov (17-1) or Michael Chiesa (10-1), who all won on Wednesday, would be the best next test.
TIM KENNEDY - Kennedy (17-4) was Wednesday night's star, a former Army Green Beret who wound up all over ESPN for his knockout of Rafael Natal in the main event.
Trying to fight on one leg after tearing his quadriceps muscle a week earlier is not recommended. Kennedy lacked his usual mobility, and worse, Natal went after the legs. It was looking like Kennedy was in for a bad five rounds, until out of nowhere, he landed a left to the jaw and his fortunes turned around. He got the knockout at 4:40 of the first round, and later said that there was no way he wasn't going to show up for a fight before that audience.
Kennedy now obviously needs some down time. But he's already started to promote a fight with Michael Bisping, himself coming off issues with a detached retina. That fight, months away, would be a crossroads fight. Both men are 34, and have come close to a taste of the top level, but both have fallen short against their biggest name foes.
YOEL ROMERO - Romero, a middleweight who stopped Ronny Markes on Wednesday via third-round knockout, is facing his own battle with the clock.
A decorated wrestler who won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics, and has three career wins in freestyle competition over Cael Sanderson, Romero looks almost like a cartoon character with his small waist, and muscular structure. With a unique style that comes across like he's slowly lulling an opponent to sleep with slow, methodical movements, before moving into tenth gear at the drop of a hat and actually putting him opponents to sleep, Markes became his sixth knockout victim.
But Romero (6-1) is 36, and still relatively inexperienced. In some ways, his late entry into the sport is reminiscent of Alexis Vila. Vila, an Olympic bronze medalist in wrestling, also had knockout power. But in taking up the sport at 36, and hitting the major stage by knocking out Joe Warren at 40, the realities of age kept him from ever reaching the top.
Romero is still inexperienced, and seemed pushed too fast when Rafael Feijao knocked him out two years ago in Strikeforce. But if he doesn't have enough experience to make a move now, there may be no move to make.