Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Sun Special Coverage
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White said prior to UFC 94’s superfight between Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn last Saturday night that while mixed martial arts is growing, it’s still at an adolescent stage — closer to its infancy than adulthood.
“I know people think I’m a (expletive) lunatic when I say this, but it’s going to be the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than the NFL, bigger than soccer, bigger than anything out there,” White said on a media teleconference call.
“The crazy thing about this sport is we haven’t even scratched the surface on how big this thing is going to be.”
This past weekend, during America’s big day for its super sport, the UFC was making another significant splash on the mainstream scene — perhaps proving that White is a little more lucid than lunatic in his predictions.
Less than 24 hours before the Super Bowl kicked off in Tampa, Pierre and Penn was plastered all over the front of ESPN’s Web site, arguably America’s top home page for sports fans.
After his dominating victory, St. Pierre was 30 minutes late to the postfight press conference so he could do an interview on “SportsCenter.”
While official numbers have yet to be released, White said he expected UFC 94 to surpass both UFC 91 (Randy Couture-Brock Lesnar) and UFC 92 (The Ultimate 2008) as the top-selling pay-per-view event in the organization’s history, with more than 1.3 million buys (which would top the 1.25 million pay-per-views that the Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao “Dream Match” in December generated).
The company’s record of 1.05 million sales came when Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz squared off for the second time at UFC 66 in 2006.
Should Saturday’s attendance number of 14,885 fans at the MGM Grand hold up, the event would become the highest-attended UFC fight in Las Vegas. Not too mention the $4.3 million live gate, would be good for sixth all-time.
“The casino was scrambling to add more seats,” White said. “Other casinos were looking for tickets. This was the craziest event we’ve ever done, by far.”
Adding further proof, the nearly 300,000 people who poured into Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend had the opportunity to make prop bets for the first time on UFC fighters. One included the number of minutes completed by Penn and St. Pierre against the number of completions by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. (Throw in MMA female star Gina Carano appearing side-by-side with Bruce Lee in a Pepsi commercial during the Super Bowl and the weekend truly reached out to a new audience like never before).
But even with all the added attention, White said the sky’s the limit for the future of the sport.
"We have so much more to do, and so far to go, that we're not even scratching the surface right now," White told Yahoo Sports.
“Let Shaq (O'Neal) or Kobe Bryant walk down the street and every single person out there on Las Vegas Boulevard will know who they are. Our guys, a lot of them can still walk through the casino and not really be bothered or recognized too much. We'll know we've hit the mainstream when our fighters are recognized in public the way Kobe, or Shaq, or LeBron (James) are right now.”
Penn mulling retirement? — In his first public interview since his disappointing defeat to St. Pierre, Penn told KHON TV in Honolulu, Hawaii, that he’s at a crossroads in his career.
“I have no clue what's going on in my head right now. Your mind changes from time to time. I was gonna make this my last fight,” said Penn, the UFC’s lightweight champ who would likely put his title on the line against No. 1 contender Kenny Florian.
"In my head, I was with the company, nine or 10 years. I kinda just wanted to go be finished with this whole thing after this. I just want to thank all the fans that supported me all this time.”
Land of the Rising Sun — White confirmed Saturday night that the UFC has interest in returning to Japan in the near future, but is spending more resources to sign some well-known imports from the country first.
“The Japanese market has always been important to me,” White said. “It’s a very, very, very tough place to navigate and do business. But, (expletive) ‘em. We’re going to do it anyway. They will not stop me from going into Japan.”
White specifically talked about “Kid” Yamamoto (17-1), a K-1 and Shooto veteran who is on a 14-fight win streak.
“I’ve been a ‘Kid’ Yamamoto fan for a long time,” White said. “I’d love to get him over here.”
“There’s two fights left on his K-1 contract, and he told me his dream is to end his career over here with us. So I’d like to see it happen.”
The UFC president also talked about UFC veteran Uno (25-11-4) and 22-year-old Olympic judo champion Satoshi Ishii, who has yet to make his MMA debut, but took the gold medal in the 2008 games.
“Caol Uno, I love him,” White said. “He’ll always be a part of the UFC. And yeah, we’re talking to him, too. And Ishii also.”
WEC adds weight class — World Extreme Cagefighting officials announced Tuesday the addition of a 125-pound flyweight division and elimination of the 170-pound welterweight division.
The moves — including welterweight champion Carlos Condit moving up to the WEC’s sister organization, the UFC — keep in line with the WEC’s goal of focusing on the lighter weight classes in MMA. The promotion abolished the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions at the end of 2008.
“With the addition of the flyweight division, the WEC has cemented its status as the home of the greatest lighter weight fighters in the world,” said Peter Dropick, the WEC’s vice president of operations and production.
"We are excited to launch the 125-pound championship division, and look forward to giving our fans the best and most action-packed flyweight fights in the sport.”
Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.