SYDNEY, December 15 - On February 21st, 2010, UFC 110 hits Acer Arena in Sydney, and not a moment too soon for the ever-growing Aussie fanbase that snapped up 16,500 tickets for the second fastest sell-out in UFC history.
The UFC’s Managing Director of International Development, Marshall Zelaznik, and fighters Cain Velasquez, Wanderlei Silva, Joe Stevenson, George Sotiropoulos, Elvis Sinosic and Chris Haseman were in attendance at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to field questions from the Aussie press on Tuesday, as the main card was officially announced, confirming the matchups expected by many hardcore fight fans.
Headlining the UFC's Australian debut is a heavyweight clash between rising star Cain Velasquez and MMA icon Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira, who are coming off of wins over Ben Rothwell and Randy Couture, respectively. The fight's victor will have a strong claim to number one contender status in the division.
Velasquez, a two-time All-American wrestler, is relishing the opportunity to fight Nogueira, for whom he has a great deal of respect.
"I'm excited to be fighting a legend like Nogueria,” he said. “He goes out there and has exciting fights, fights with all his heart and that's how I fight."
With champion Brock Lesnar currently sidelined by illness, the future of the heavyweight title is unclear. But for the 27 year old Velasquez, where a win on February 21st places him in the heavyweight picture is further from his thoughts than one might expect. But his attitude is probably wise given the calibre of Brazil’s “Minotauro”, 33.
"I'm not really sure (where it places me),” he said. “I really don’t see myself anywhere until the UFC tells me you’re ready for a title shot. I'm just working my way up the ladder. I never think about what's going to happen afterwards. My first job is to go out there and win. So if I don't do that there really is nothing after."
Nogueira, the famously durable submission artist, is a threat to anyone in the division, and accordingly, ground and pound specialist Cain won't be stepping into the Octagon without a hard training camp behind him and a solid game plan in mind.
"I'll get my coaches together, watch some film on him, and see what he does well. I’ll keep formulating the game plan the entire training camp." he said. "I've been working on getting better at all aspects of MMA. When I get back (to my training camp) I'm going to pick it up and just keep going harder and harder."
The card's co-main event is a middleweight bout between UK contender Michael Bisping and MMA legend Wanderlei Silva, a fight which promises explosive standup action.
Silva, a career light heavyweight, makes his middleweight debut with an opportunity to fast track himself to the title. For Bisping, coming off an impressive victory over Denis Kang, a win over “The Axe Murderer” allows him to re-establish himself as a top contender in the division.
The Brazilian, now based in Vegas, was jovial on the topic of the replacement of scheduled opponent, Yoshihiro Akiyama, with Bisping.
"I think it's better, because, I don’t know, but a lot of fans don't like him, no? Every fan I talk to gives me the message “kick his ass”. My fans want it – I’m gonna try," he said of Bisping.
Of course, Silva recognises that doing so is no easy feat; and he will be taking The Ultimate Fighter season 3 winner very seriously.
"He's a great opponent, top of the list, maybe top 5, top 3 in the world," he said. "He's a real dangerous opponent, he has good hands, good kicks, good takedowns, he's the complete guy. I’m going to prepare for everything.”
Silva, 33, made his current agenda in MMA clear – become the dominant Silva of old
"I'm going back to my normal days, I’m going to give a great show for my fans here. I want to fight back to the top"
Australia's own Ultimate Fighter 6 standout, George Sotiropoulos, faces a big step up in competition in highly regarded veteran and TUF 2 winner Joe "Daddy" Stevenson. The Aussie of Greek descent, who has won all four of his UFC fights, has earned the opportunity. If Sotiropoulos manages to pass the test, he will go from prospect to contender in the lightweight division.
TUF 2 Winner Stevenson, one of the most experienced fighters in the game, isn't daunted by fighting in front of a partisan Aussie crowd.
"When you fight, if you do it right, you only see the other fighter,” said Stevenson. “You don’t see the referee. The cage is like a wall. You can hear your coach and you can feel the energy.”
“Joe Daddy”, who’s won his last two matches over the dangerous Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher, understands and respects what Sotiropoulos brings to the table;
"He's really good on the ground. He's really good on his feet. I’m really good on the ground. I’m really good on the feet. It's gonna be whoever’s better that day," said the 27 year old.
Sotiropoulos, 32, won’t feel any additional pressure in front of a hometown crowd. In fact, he's looking forward to it.
"I never envisioned that I’d be fighting here, so coming back to Australia to fight is great because now my family and friends can appreciate what I do and support what I'm doing," he said. “Is it more pressure? No. I black out my distractions”.
As you'd expect, Sotiropoulos is tight-lipped about his specific game plan against Stevenson, though he did shed some light on his expectations for the fight.
“It'll be a tactical MMA fight of boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling and jiu-jitsu, maybe in a different order than what you normally see," said Sotiropoulos. “I'm expecting a war, I’m expecting the very best from myself and I’m expecting the very best from him. The exact outcome, I don’t know, but I believe I’m the better fighter and I believe I’ll be the victor".
Confirmed for the undercard is the first Aussie Vs. Aussie UFC fight, a rematch of fan favorite Elvis Sinosic and Chris Haseman, pioneers of MMA down-under.
“Chris is a very experienced opponent,” said Sinosic, 38. “"I always look at either a knockout or submission; I don’t see it going to decision".
“Most of all I’m looking forward to fighting Elvis. The rematch has been in the waiting for some time, and what better place to do it than in Australia,” said Haseman, 40, who defeated Sinosic in their first bout in 1997.
Though they weren’t able to attend the presser, bouts between light heavyweights Keith Jardine and Ryan Bader and heavyweights Mirko Cro Cop and Ben Rothwell were also announced for the UFC’s star-studded first Australian trip – but one expects it won’t be the last.