NEW YORK -- A world tour wouldn't live up to its name without a stop in the Big Apple. While cities like Los Angeles and Tokyo and Paris can occasionally dominate the world stage, few compare year-round with Manhattan, with its concentration of media outlets and trendsetters, movers and shakers. It's a place to see and be seen, to make the boldest of bold statement. And so despite the fact that the UFC can still not legally bring a fight to the state, they proved that they can still bring an event to the City.
With all eyes on them -- with FOX news and ESPN and numerous other outlets who rarely raise a brow at rapt attention -- the UFC brought out its high-voltage stars and made its pitch.
And with several of its biggest names -- Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez among them -- in attendance at the famed Beacon Theatre before hundreds of raucous fans, it was the women who stole the show. The rivalry that won't die was front and center, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate providing the day's spark and fire.
For all of Velasquez's toughness and efficiency, for all of St-Pierre's technical mastery, when the two open their mouths, they rarely say anything particularly noteworthy. In fact, when last year, GSP said he had no real interest in women's MMA, the story blew up, as though his disinterest was an assault on the sport. In fact, he noted at the time that he only tended to watch the matches of personal friends; aside from that, he was an equal opportunity ignorer of fights. But that's what it's like as the champion, an often overbearing spotlight and endless scrutiny.
Faced with that statement again on Wednesday, St-Pierre said that he's begun to come around on it after watching Rousey's last match, a battle with Liz Carmouche. And so the women's assimilation continues.
So does the rivalry of Rousey and Tate. Perhaps purposely, the UFC through two tour dates has sat the two on opposite ends of the stage, as far from each other as possible. But no distance is far enough for their conflict. When they speak of each other, their answers crackle, popping with venom. It's all real, as everyone around them acknowledges.
But if that's the case, how do they separate the emotion from the competition? Or do they collide?
"They did the first time for me but I won't make that mistake again," Tate said. "Sometimes if you have a dislike for someone, it’s hard to separate that but I didn't get into fighting to beat people up I don't like. I still see it as competition. I'm going out there to test my skill set as the best Miesha Tate I can put in the cage. And really that’s what it’s about. I'm doing my very best to put my personal dislike for Ronda aside and just looking at it like competition. There’s a belt on the line and that’s really all that matters at the end of the day."
"It really doesn't matter to me," Rousey said of the rivalry. "I really fight emotionless when I'm out there. I don't need opinions about anything. I see things going on and I see all the options they're trying to do and narrow them down to a finish. I don't have any time to feel one way about my opponent. Compartmentalizing sets champions apart. I've had terrible, crazy days and weeks that lead up to a fight. You just have to turn that off and just do it. I’m not undefeated because I had perfect circumstances leaden up to every fight; I’m undefeated because regardless of circumstances, I still win."
The rivalry, now deep-seated, has roots in what Tate perceived to be Rousey's disrespect when Tate was the reigning Strikeforce champion, and Rousey was still fairly new to the organization. Tate said it was the first interview she'd ever seen with Rousey, who said she planned to slap the belt out of Tate's hands.
Since then, it's mostly been enmity.
The two had a lightning quick period of peace when after Tate lost to Cat Zingano, Rousey approached her to shake her hand and say she had fought well. Rousey said she felt the fight was stopped prematurely and could empathize with Tate's lost opportunity.
"It was cool to see that kind of respect from her," Tate said. "There's been a couple of glimmers of hope here and there that maybe we could squash the beef. The problem that I have with Ronda is that I felt disrespected from the get-go."
Tate also acknowledged her biggest mistake was the same thing: she disrespected (and underestimated) Rousey before they went to battle. It's a mistake she says she won't repeat.
Even if the two can't stand to be within shouting distance of each other, there's no denying that their combined presence puts a spark in the room. Their answers brought howls from the assembled crowd, and even Jones, who seems to have loved his front-row seat to the rivalry on the stage in between them. It is exactly 151 days until UFC 168. For both of them, it can't come soon enough.
New York world tour notes
For the second straight day, Jon Jones was asked about his move up to heavyweight, something that is likely to happen in the future. This time, Cain Velasquez was asked about his thoughts on facing Jones.
"I think Jon Jones is a great champion. He's amazing at what he does out there. If he does be champ for a while, definitely I’ll accept the challenge for sure."
With that, Jones stood up with a smile on his face, and the two squared off, teasing the fans of what might one day come.
Bones vs. Klitschko?
Speaking of super fights, while Jones admitted one day he'd likely move up to heavyweight, he also brought up a surprise when asked about his dream match.
"I’d like to be heavyweight champ of the world in MMA, and the heavyweight champ in boxing one day, maybe beat up a Klitschko brother," he said. "You never know, it's a possibility."
Not surprisingly, UFC president Dana White, a longtime fan of boxing, was not exactly on board with the idea.
"I don't know what the hell he's thinking on that one," he said. "When MMA guys start getting too cocky about their boxing, it gets a little weird. Two totally different sports. I'll do it in MMA. I respect boxing."
Big Nog update
Junior dos Santos plans to have Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his camp when he starts camp, even though the heavyweight legend is still on the mend.
"He’s doing very well," he said. "He’s in Rio now. He got some problems in his arm again after that fight. But for sure he’s going to come to Salvador when I leave to help me with training for my next fight."