MMA: Velasquez, Nogueira take UFC’s 1st trip Down Under
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
Although Cain Velasquez and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira soon hope to be fighting for a UFC title a bit closer to home, they’re happy to take a detour to Australia to decide who gets the next big shot.
The two talented heavyweights will be joined on the UFC’s latest road trip by Wanderlei Silva and Michael Bisping at UFC 110, the mixed martial arts league’s first major event in a country that loves a good brawl.
The UFC said it sold 16,000 tickets in less than an hour for the fight at Sydney’s Acer Arena — which is exactly what executives expected for a card featuring several notable fighters and even a handful of Australian competitors.
“Our expectation is always to sell these events out, and this one obviously didn’t let us down,” said Marshall Zelaznik, the president of UFC UK. “It sold out in less than a half a day, and was our second-fastest sellout. We go in (to new markets) with a little bit of apprehension, but we’re always optimistic.”
The show, which will take place on Sunday afternoon in Sydney to reach North America’s Saturday night pay-per-view customers, features an eclectic collection of fighters with better name recognition than recent results.
Not so in the main event, which matches two heavyweight contenders on career upswings.
The fight is an intriguing contrast in styles, with Velasquez (7-0) attempting to use his formidable wrestling skills and strength against Nogueira (32-5-1), the durable Brazilian jiujitsu specialist with wins in four of his last five fights. While the intimidating, athletic Velasquez is a popular pick to lead the wave of challengers to Brock Lesnar’s heavyweight title, the 33-year-old Nogueira isn’t ready to go away.
“Who’s calling me old? I’m very mad (about) that,” said Nogueira, whose twin brother, Antonio Rogerio, also is in the midst of a mid-career surge. “We’re still in the game. We’re very good fighters. We can see the new guys coming up. We respect them a lot, so we’re going to pick our level up.”
While Shane Carwin and Frank Mir will meet at UFC 111 next month to determine the likely next opponent for Lesnar, the winner in Sydney also will be in line for a title shot.
And then there’s Silva, who might be fighting to save his UFC career.
During a long career spent mostly in Japan, Silva became one of MMA’s most beloved competitors because of his reckless style — but he’s been a flop since returning to UFC in 2007. He has lost five of his last six fights overall, including back-to-back defeats against Rampage Jackson and Rich Franklin.
Silva (32-10-1) hasn’t fought in eight months, but believes the time off recharged him. He also slimmed down to middleweight, choosing to continue his career at 185 pounds.
“I gave that time to my family and my gym,” Silva said. “I’m always ready to fight again.”
Silva will be a sentimental favorite against Bisping (19-2), the middleweight who was famously knocked cold with one punch by Dan Henderson in UFC 100, finishing the grudge they formed as coaches on the UFC’s signature television show. Although North American fans largely can’t stand the trash-talking Englishman, he’s hoping to attract new fans in Sydney with a win over Silva.
“You’ve got to try and bring in similar-style sparring partners, and one thing that England isn’t short of is lots of brawlers,” Bisping said of his training for Silva. “We haven’t had to look too far to bring in guys that like to swing a lot and just all-out brawl, you know? In some respects, he isn’t the most difficult guy to prepare for.”
Bisping also has a surprising source of insight on Silva: Jackson, Bisping’s friend and training partner in England, has been certified to work in Bisping’s corner. Jackson, who will return to the UFC in May after his dalliance with acting in the “The A-Team” movie, has fought Silva three times, losing twice before stopping Silva in December 2008.
“He brings some good strategies to the table,” Bisping said. “He’s told me what to expect. Just having someone like Rampage, with his vast experience in the fight game, in camp is a good thing psychologically, and when the training gets a bit hard, he’s always good for a laugh as well.”
Light heavyweight Keith Jardine, who has lost four of his last six fights, also will face unbeaten Ryan Bader, while Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic gets his third fight back in UFC against Ben Rothwell, who was stopped by Velasquez in his last bout. UFC president Dana White even matched two Australians, putting Elvis Sinosic against Chris Haseman in a meeting of genial palookas.