Denver, Colorado -- Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has positioned itself as a fan friendly organization. And at the UFC 135 press conference today from the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., the promotion didn't disappoint.
I made my way down to 1000 Chopper Circle earlier this afternoon to attend the "Jones vs. Rampage" presser at "The Can," which is where I'm used to covering Denver Nuggets games for SB Nation's Denver Stiffs blog. Only this time I got to see a whole different side of one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
I'm not a professional photographer, but what follows are my pictures from the event today, as well as my thoughts on what unfolded:
On my way into the press conference. Here is the main entrance to the Pepsi Center, which is where I've seen hundreds of Nuggets games (and more than a handful of disappointments during that span). Saturday night this place will be electric and the front entrance will be flooded with UFC fight fans. But, who will the majority be rooting for?
Michael Bisping was on-hand doing some interviews. Shortly after I grabbed this shot, UFC President Dana White let us in on the reason "The Count" was in town -- there is going to be a sneak preview for the media of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 tonight at the Paramount Theater (where UFC commentator Joe Rogan will be performing a comedy show Fri., Sept. 23, 2011). When Bisping was a contestant on TUF he quickly became one of my favorite fighters, but now I want to see Jason Miller take it to him during the TUF 14 Finale in December.
Bisping took the time after his interviews to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the kids and fans who were surrounding him as soon as he left the roped off press area. Pretty cool to see these MMA fighters mix it up with the fans. Classy.
Finally, the moment we were all waiting for! Altitude TV personality and Nuggets announcer Scott Hastings, who played for five teams during an NBA career that spanned from 1982 to 1993, introduced the fighters and White. Matt Hughes and Jon Jones sat to the right of the podium, while Quinton Jackson and Josh Koscheck sat to the left of the podium (from their view looking out, of course). Hastings had a good opening line along the lines of, "You always remember your first kiss, your first car, the first UFC," which took place in Denver and is now back in the "Mile High City." I hope these fighters are all accustomed to the altitude in Colorado because that could play a major role in fights that go the distance.
Dana White takes the microphone and gets the press conference moving. He fielded numerous questions, like was Hughes ducking Koscheck for a number of years? To which White told us that Hughes has never turned down any fight that the UFC presented him. White called out Denver radio personality Darren McKee, better known as DMAC, for being an instigator when he twisted some of "Bones'" words around in a question to Rampage. He basically said Jones called Rampage old and that Jackson has mental issues (from knockouts). The "instigation" got a good chuckle from the crowd and fighters, with Rampage firing back that he is ready for the fight. White also allowed the fans in attendance to ask a few questions.
A couple kids asked how they could one day fight in the UFC (one girl and one boy), a young fighter asked for pointers on how to get on the next TUF, to which White asked if he'd been past the interview phase (the guy had not) everyone laughed as White said he needed to get past the interviews and just keep training. A guy shouted out and wanted to know if the female fighters from Strikeforce would find a home if the fight company (owned by the UFC) went defunct. White told him that it's up to Showtime to keep Strikeforce and that there are not enough good female fighters to create a division in the UFC, but said there are some good individual match-ups from time-to-time.
And the final question was directed to Jones, who was asked to predict how his fight with Rampage would end. Jones started to answer and say, "No disrespect to Rampage" and was interrupted by Rampage, who reminded Jones that he has been disrespecting him plenty leading up to this point. You can feel that there is some animosity among the two brawlers.
Rampage is an interviewers dream. He's thoughtful, he'll answer any/all questions and he's genuinely funny, even when he's not trying to be. He told the press that Jones hasn't really fought anybody and claimed that Mauricio Rua was rusty when Jones took the title from him. That comment didn't go over really well with Bones. Rampage made it clear when he began talking that he's in great shape for this fight, he said he's trained as hard for this fight as he has for any other. He talked about being motivated and being motivated by just walking into the gym saying of the updated facility that he trained at, "I like technology and stuff like that." When DMAC asked Rampage about Jones, who had been doing a lot of talking at the presser, Rampage responded by saying, "I do most of my talking in the Octagon." When he was lobbed a question about the city of Denver, Rampage said the city was cool and that he normally likes to be in new places and see new faces, but he's so focused he hasn't been able to focus on much else. He did make a good joke about going to the Denver Zoo and meeting a little monkey that reminded him of Jones. I'm excited to see how Rampage does in this one. He hasn't scored a knockout since he put Wanderlei Silva down back on Dec. 27, 2008. and I think he might need to finish Jones to get the win on Saturday.
A little fuzzy on the Jones photograph, my apologies. To me, Jones didn't sound as comfortable at the presser - probably just because he has the least amount of experience at the table than the other three fighters. He addressed the issue of him being fake by saying that people don't really know him, so how could they think he's fake. And he just rolled with the punches saying everything is a part of his image now because guys like Rampage and Rashad Evans have such large followings that people would believe just about anything those two say. When he was asked how his fight would end, Jones said he would finish the fight and be the winner when it was over. He didn't want to discount Rampage, but when asked about his chin he did say that his youth would serve him well, while veteran fighters have to worry about their chins because of all the accumulated damage throughout the years -- a clear shot at Rampage. There is no question that Jones is a supremely talented fighter and he will do whatever it takes to defend his belt.
Just past the cameraman's dome you'll see UFC Hall of Fame inductee, Matt Hughes. He wasn't asked a ton of questions because people know what to expect from the 37-year-old. But Hughes did make light of Jones' comment about veteran fighters accumulating damage, saying that Jones was just referencing guys like himself. Hughes didn't say this was his last MMA fight (it will be his last under a UFC contract, for now), but he did say he doesn't want to be fighting into his 40's. I would be surprised if Hughes tries to stand up with Koscheck, but the veteran has to have some tricks up his sleeve. This fight has been a long time in the making and Hughes didn't really have any answers as to why this one hasn't happened sooner. He let White handle that, basically saying it was never presented to him.
Josh Koscheck let the crowd know a few times that he took this fight on 19 days notice, replacing Diego Sanchez. He was asked why he's fighting at 170 pounds instead of moving up to 185 pounds as expected. "Kos" said that he had some other options, but that he needed a name to motivate him. Hughes motivated him more than his other options and he's wanted this fight for a long time - a real long time. It should be an interesting match, but I'm not really sure how it's a win for Kos - if he wins the fight people can say, "Well of course he won, Hughes is 37." And if he loses it'll look pretty disappointing for a guy who needs some big wins to get back in the good graces of fight fans.
The one lighthearted moment between Jones and Jackson came here, as the two shared a laugh about something after their stare-down pose. Hopefully, Jones didn't make a joke about the height difference that Jackson will face. Rampage did say he has fought guys with bigger reaches than him before, so it wont be an issue ... one guy in K1 and another in Chuck Liddell (whom he knocked out to win the title).
Dana seems be trying to fire up Rampage with his Incredible Hulk pose ... Rampage isn't having any of it.
The little blonde haired kid pictured below wanted a photograph with Rampage, but was a little too shy/scared to pose for one. Rampage followed him for a second before moving on to other folks waiting for autographs and photos with the bruiser.
Jones and Hughes shook a few hands and got a couple photos with fans, but Rampage and Koscheck went above and beyond by sticking around until they were pulled away by staff. The two satisfied all signings and photo-ops, a real classy move by the guys and something that fans appreciate. So often now we see athletes who charge for pictures and signatures and only do them at certain events. It was great to see these guys connecting with the people who took the time out of their day to be at the Pepsi Center. After Kos was done he threw a few squirts of hand-sanitizer into his palms before vacating the room, keeping it clean.
A view from the Club Level at "The Can" where in just a few days the floor below will transform into an Octagon and high-priced seats for UFC 135 ... CAN'T WAIT!
Coming Sat., Sept. 24, to the Pepsi Center.
If you want to catch my preview of the fight or the results after the weekend, check out my podcast at ColoradoSportsGuys.com and here is the episode where we preview UFC 135 (we're available free on iTunes, on Facebook and Twitter). And my Nuggets site on SB Nation at Denver Stiffs.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons