LAS VEGAS – By now it’s become a familiar chorus that everyone from the most prurient weekend pagans to the most unthawable white-collar codgers can agree on: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. That little slogan is meant to free inhibitions and encourage consequence-less escapades. Vegas keeps secrets.
It’s of course a lot of baloney when dealing in the overly cruel and sensationally public fight game.
Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman came together one last time as clothed men in an MGM ballroom on Thursday -- one last time before Saturday night’s rematch. Their next two encounters will find them stripped to the waist and shoeless. The first time they took the scales against one another in July, the lights and dehydration must have gotten to them, as they ended up lips-to-lips in the staredown. (I joked with Weidman about trying for second base this time through, and he laughed before saying that he "just might." Turns out the pride of Long Island has a sense of humor).
And the last time they fought, Silva ratcheted his berserker act up a notch, and, through a sustained ritual of dancing and egging on, invited Weidman to come in and slam a left hand into his jaw. That was the inglorious end of a 16-fight UFC win streak for Silva, an improbable run that left him alone at the top of the pound-for-pound greatest fighter lists, thus setting up the biggest rematch in company history.
That’s where things are at the tail end of 2013. At a crossroads.
And as the year closes out, it’s almost like with every twist and turn in the Weidman-Silva rivalry -- no matter how bizarre or unexpected -- the magnitude gets that much bigger. And the bigger it gets, the more it becomes a pressure cooker. And pressure, if you don’t know, is a real thing. A couple of weeks back, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre walked away from the fight game because of that pressure. Pressure is a P4P king slayer with zero conscience.
On Saturday night, the middleweight belt will be contested, and the pressure will be at the greatest that either Weidman or Silva has ever felt. In fact, pressure is what's being fought over, if you want to look at it that way.
"As a UFC fighter you always have a lot of pressure coming into fights, and thankfully I was able to do a lot of things with my life that brought that pressure onto me," Silva said at the UFC 168 press conference Thursday. "The pressure’s there, and in a few days the pressure’s going to be back with me."
Weidman is a little different. He looks at pressure as a very real but ultimately ignorable steam kettle going off in a different room. It’s that focus that gives him an unnerving edge in Saturday night’s second encounter, when the fight world will be fixated on what happens in Vegas.
"There’s always pressures in every camp," Weidman said. "But for this one it’s been a lot less. I actually felt like I have a lot less on my plate this camp, a lot of things are going on my way. Compared to the last one. The last one I was coming off a long layoff, two surgeries, Hurricane Sandy, and there were question marks in the back of my head. For this camp there were zero question marks, zero reasons why I would lose this fight, and I didn’t have to work on closing those doubts in my head, because there is none."
Ronda Rousey, rivals and round round beatdowns
Oh yeah, the co-main event. That’s where the true bad blood is.
Ronda Rousey, who began the year with a bang by singlehandedly paving the way for women in the UFC (historic) and defeating Liz Carmouche in her first title defense (also historic), is ready to get down to brass tacks.
The bottom line is, she felt a little bamboozled into drawing Miesha Tate a second time instead of Cat Zingano as her next opponent. She demonstrated that on the first episode of TUF 18, when Tate showed up on set smiling ear-to-ear at the lopsided fortune-to-misfortune ratio between them. Rousey has been through altering states of intense power-sulking and fidgety "let’s just get to December and settle this thing" eagerness since that time.
That time is finally here. And at the back end of it, Rousey and Tate have materialized as full-blown rivals, something that the champion has accepted as a good thing, going back to their first encounter under the Strikeforce banner in 2012.
"Yeah, if I had to go back I would definitely do the same thing, because that’s what really created so much interest the first time," she said at the press conference. "I think that if we didn’t create that rivalry, I’m not sure if Dana [White] and the Fertitta’s would have been watching that fight in the first place. It’s because people were interested in it for some reason.
"For the time I think it was definitely, exactly what was needed. Everybody was playing the Miss America card, and though they were great fights, nobody was really watching them. So I think a spectacle first."
The "War Master" redefines art of eight limbs
Though he wasn’t asked a question for the first 23 minutes of the press conference, once Josh Barnett was asked a question, he made up for lost time.
The question: Travis Browne has some pretty unusual striking techniques -- superman punches, front kicks – what do you do to prepare for somebody with that kind of striking style?
The answer: "Well, being from the Pacific Northwest we have the giant Pacific octopus, so we put some gloves on one of those and just sort of hopped it up on a bunch of Xyience, spun it around. I figured it couldn’t be much more unusual than that. Unfortunately I didn’t do that well, because it inked me in the face, and I couldn’t see…but, luckily, to my knowledge, while Travis has grown a very regal beard that I’m quite impressed with, I don’t think he squirts ink. So I feel pretty confident there.