NEW YORK -- UFC 159 fight week featured multiple events in Manhattan, just a few miles across the river from host city Newark, N.J. There was the "Herald Square Takeover" in midtown, a VIP party at the grand opening of the new UFC gym in the Financial District, and a press event at Madison Square Garden as the promotion widely flexed its muscle in a show of force for one of the last remaining states to hold out on sanctioned mixed martial arts.
Upstate, the UFC sent a contingent to the state capitol in hopes of securing more support for a bill that may or may not find a date on the Assembly floor.
Still, after years of lobbying with no tangible results, UFC president Dana White wasn't exactly finding himself in a New York state of mind.
"It's just to the point now that it's absolutely ridiculous," White said of the slow legislative process. "I'm just … I'm over it."
That feeling is a personal one for White, separate from the company's continuing work in getting the media-heavy market cleared for takeoff. UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta has the reins on the ongoing project.
While White said on Thursday that he wasn't sure if Madison Square Garden was still holding a November date for what would be the company's 20th anniversary show, sources with knowledge of the situation told MMA Fighting that the date was in fact still being saved, even as expectations remain restrained.
Meanwhile, a state-produced product, Jon Jones, headlines a card in neighboring New Jersey. From the outside looking in, it is a main-event matchup that doesn't seem particularly long on drama. Jones is expected to win, and win decisively. Most ardent MMA observers believe that, and yet there is a good buzz around the card from the mainstream sports world, at least partly due to the celebrity gained by Chael Sonnen in his matchups with Anderson Silva, as well as his promotional abilities.
The supporting card lacks some sizzle. No other bouts have title implications or include former champions. Even co-main evener Michael Bisping acknowledged he hadn't given many interviews over the last few weeks because "my phone wasn't going off every day. Nobody's been asking me about Alan Belcher."
So this, from a buyer's perspective, is mostly a one-fight card, and a lopsided one at that.
Last week, the popular sports website Deadspin published a column about Sonnen's promotional tactics. The piece is entitled "Chael Sonnen, the UFC's Skip Bayless, race-baits his way to the top."
Here is a passage that boils down author Tim Marchman's piece as well as any other:
"And given the nature of the fighters—the challenger nestled inside his inverted commas, the champion faced with a public as resentful of him as it tends to be of any athlete who's young, gifted, black, and not very good at pretending not to be immensely pleased with himself—there is only one possible form that selling point can take, and of course it's already taken it. Sonnen has called Jones "boy," and talked him down as an "entitled bratty kid" (the cognate you're looking for is "uppity"). The hype machine hasn't really even been turned on yet, and Sonnen has already nearly exhausted the euphemisms for that one word he'll hint at, tease, and never quite say. It's been depressing to watch."
While Sonnen said he had not read or seen the piece, I asked Jones for his thoughts on Sonnen as a race-baiter.
"As a black man, I don’t like when people want to be oversensitive," he said. "If you’re blatantly racist, you’re blatantly racist. I’m not overly sensitive to racial stuff. I’m not going to sit here and call him a racist. His coach is black. He trains with Yushin Okami. He’s not a racist. I think he’s a white guy in America who said something that he should’ve kept with his white buddies."
Then, I asked him if he felt Sonnen had ever crossed the line.
"When he made that comment about Brazilian kids playing in the dirt, it was just so uppity of him," he said. "I’m sure Chael has had money his whole life. He seems like type of guy who lives in middle-class America. I was like, 'dude, don’t do that.' Poverty, sickness. I’ve been to Brazil, I’ve seen people doing crack on the side of the road. Bad, bad stuff. I’ve also seen beautiful people and beaches and resorts and restaurants. The bad there is really bad, and it’s not funny. That makes me as an American fighter look bad. Don’t do that. I take that serious. Like saying he’s going to slap Anderson’s wife on the butt, that would make me mad if I was Anderson, but I could care less that he said that. Talking about poverty and the kids and s---, that’s not cool. That’s not cool at all."
Turning towards the sporting side of it all, there is the narrative of Sonnen still chasing what has escaped his grasp time and time again, winning a championship. Asked what it would mean to him, he said this:
"It would just be a byproduct of a lifetime of hard work, a lifetime of dedication. I’d never been to a party until I got to college. I was never invited to a party. I didn’t know what guys did on the weekend. I was always at practice. Saturday, I was at competitions, Sunday, I was taking care of animals. So I never knew. I never had that social life. I sacrificed everything for moments like this."
Michael Bisping on what he thinks when he sees Alan Belcher:
"I can't actually see him now thank God because he's quite ugly, so I don't like to look at him. He's got a face that looks like he's been bobbing for apples in a deep-fat fryer. When I look at him I feel sorry for him. I do. I feel sorry for the guy. He seems like a decent guy. He's trying to promote this fight, he's trying to come out with these videos. He's trying to do this and that and he's making a huge mistake. He's going to get beat and he knows he's going to get beat."
Alan Belcher on whether he's gotten into Bisping's head:
"I think maybe he's got into his own head. He's the one who's been knocked out cold multiple times in his career. I've rarely ever been hurt in a fight. I've never been knocked down or almost knocked out in the gym or in a fight. People don't really come back from those ice-cold, out-cold knockouts like that. Maybe he's in his own head and trying to talk himself up to be confident or something."
Roy Nelson on what he expects from Cheick Kong:
"I have a feeling he'll probably run a lot. That's ultraconservative. I didn't join the track meet. I came here to fight. That's why people come, to see me fight."
- Odds-wise, the second biggest favorite on this card is Sara McMann, who is a 7-to-1 favorite over Sheila Gaff. McMann is a 2004 Olympic wrestling silver medalist, and undefeated in MMA at 6-0.
- With a win, Jon Jones will tie Tito Ortiz's record for consecutive light heavyweight championship title defenses at five.
- Debuting lightweight Yancy Medeiros is competing for the first time in nearly three years. Last time he fought was in June 2010, when he won as a middleweight in Strikeforce.
- A loss by Leonard Garcia would mark a five-fight losing streak, tying him with Steve Cantwell for the second-longest run in UFC history. Both Elvis Sinosic and Phil Baroni lost six straight, although each of those streaks were compiled over two separate stints with the promotion.