Interviews and press conferences produce all sorts of interesting news items but I find that wandering around backstage or at the hotel bar throws up a lot of gems as well. Here’s a few things that I came across at UFC on FUEL 5 at the weekend…
Kingsbury and Manuwa meet again…
Kyle Kingsbury’s face was a total mess at the end of two rounds with Jimi Manuwa and it subsequently turned out to be hairline skull fractures and a broken left eye socket. Kingsbury bore the wounds bravely and was actually downstairs in the hotel bar meeting fans a few hours after the fight, once he had been checked and released by the local hospital.
The next day, Manuwa was returning to London by train in the company of some of his team. The carriage doors opened up and who walks in? Kyle Kingsbury. He was booked for the same train, same carriage. It could have made for an awkward moment but the two were friendly and actually it was Manuwa who felt worse. Our source says he felt bad for the damage he had inflicted on Kingsbury.
Stefan Struve does a lot of distance work - just doesn’t like using it
I spoke to Stefan Struve the day before his fight with Stipe Miocic and he told me he had been working a lot on using his natural height and reach advantages. Previously he has been criticised for allowing opponents to get too close and paying the price as a result but he assured me that this time, he was ready to box strategically and use his gifts.
However, the fight didn’t exactly play out like that and again we saw a lot of Struve sitting in the pocket and playing the short-range game, which led to him taking some meaty shots from Miocic. Ultimately Struve was able to stop him with a superb barrage of strikes in the second round but he still exposed himself to unnecessary danger.
I ran into him at the hotel after the fight and asked what had happened to the new plans of using range. He laughed and shrugged. “If I fight like that it would be boring anyway and people wouldn’t like it,” he said. And he may have a point - Semmy Schilt is a similarly tall fellow Dutchman and he does use his range to keep opponents on the end of his jab. Its never won the fans over but it has won him many a title and so the question is, does Struve want to be popular or does he want to be a champion?
Maguire heartbroken over failure to perform
John Maguire was very upset after his unanimous decision loss to fellow Brit welterweight John Hathaway. The fight was not a crowd-pleaser and at time resembled a sparring session. Maguire did very little offensively until the last half of the last round. The two have trained together in the past and rumour has it that Hathaway came out on top in the sparring, so maybe that made for hesitancy?
Maguire himself told me that it was “just one of them nights where nothing went right. I don’t know what else to say.” His dismay is clear to see and its a shame because he’s had two exciting performances before that and his ‘Gypsy Jiu Jitsu’ branding is strong. He was on a steady ascent but now needs a huge performance in his next outing.
He will probably have a good one next time though - he didn’t want to fight a fellow Brit in the first place and as long as his next opponent doesn’t have a UK passport, he will surely put it on him.
Old dog learns new tricks
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but don’t tell that to Che Mills. He hit some nice judo-style trips on Duane Ludwig prior to an injury stopping the fight and Ludwig being stretchered out of the Octagon. Mills is 30 and has been fighting a long time on the UK circuit but I’ve never seen those trips from him before.
I asked him afterwards if it was something new he had been working on and he confirmed that it was. “Plenty more where that came from!” he laughed, tapping his nose to indicate that whatever the ‘plenty more’ is, its secret for now.
Gunnar Nelson wanders in, wins decisively, wanders out
Gunnar Nelson has been famous in the jiu jitsu world for some time but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the mainstream MMA scene got their first look at him. They were impressed and baffled in equal measure. Impressed in that his BJJ is like something from another planet and is clearly world class. Confused because Nelson didn’t change facial expression once - he handled his UFC debut with the same disinterest you or I might display when the Mrs has us out shopping for a new living-room carpet.
Afterwards Nelson told me he had been feeling a lot of excitement and nerves about his debut - but his delivery was so deadpan that it felt like he was pulling my leg. I don’t think he was, but I do want to know what it would take to see him start doing backflips of excitement. I am reliably informed by several people who shall remain nameless that if you want to see him crack up, you need to put Family Guy on the TV.
One UK show next year, Germany promise unlikely to be fulfilled
Dana White always tells us that the UFC has a plan and knows what its doing - and that conversely, we don’t know what the plan is and so can’t comment on what the UFC is doing. But its surely clear to everyone that one event per year is just not good enough for the UK market and won’t do anything to put momentum behind the brand here.
At the weekend it was announced that Garry Cook, formerly a chief executive for the Jordan brand at Nike and latterly at Manchester City Football Club, would be joining the UFC as head of operations for the UK, Europe and Africa. I pressed Dana on whether there would be only one event per year in those territories, as has been the case for the last few years.
The reply was vague, either because he didn’t want to answer or he didn’t fully understand the question (maybe my accent) but I’m told from other quarters that it will be just one show in the UK next year again, with one planned for Sweden as well. White did say to a German reporter that the show would be going to Germany again but this is his stock answer if asked where the UFC is going. If you asked if the UFC would be going to Peru, he would nod emphatically and tell you that “we are going to Peru - we are going everywhere!”
Previous visits to Germany have been dire in terms of ticket sales and revenues so I wouldn’t expect the UFC to head back there, especially as it is still banned from German television. What was really odd was that White said he didn’t know there was any MMA market in Poland at all - Germany’s neighbour has a thriving MMA scene, a fight culture and a great domestic show in the form of KSW. The UFC would sell out there in minutes if they visited Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw or Katowice.
I also asked Dana why Garry Cook had “…and Africa” as part of his job title and at first he was a touch evasive. But when I asked the same question about three times he decided to throw some concrete destinations out there. South Africa is one - and already has the hugely successful EFC show - while another is Ghana, which has produced numerous top boxers such as Ben Tackie.
Bisping vs. Anderson in UK? No chance.
Michael Bisping facing Anderson Silva for the middleweight title is “interesting” to Dana White, he admitted to a scrum of reporters. One of them asked if the fight would be staged in the UK should it be made and White kind of nodded and said “Yeah, maybe”.
That satisfied the British reporter but realistically, there is no chance of that fight happening here. The Brazilian market is a money-making machine for the UFC right now and shows there can be sold on pay-per-view easily in the US because there is little time difference between Brazil and America.
But PPV shows from the UK have failed in the US because of the big time difference. So are they really going to match two of their highest-paid fighters on a card that will do maybe half of its PPV potential? No chance. Sorry Brits but if Bisping vs. Anderson does happen, you’ll either have to travel for it or watch it on television.
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