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UFC brass eager for expansion into Mexico

Mexican fighters believe they can tap into countrymen’s passion via boxing

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Associated Press

Undefeated heavyweight contender Cain Velasquez flexes at a weigh-in before UFC 99.

UFC president Dana White has said it would only be a matter of time before the premiere mixed martial arts organization reached arguably the world’s most passionate fight fans — south of the U.S. Border.

UFC 100 marked Mexico’s grand entry into the MMA fray, as the historic show was broadcast free by TV giant Grupo Televisa, exposing the sport on its biggest stage to a country filled with more than 100 million people.

"This sport, it's like a virus. It infects you and you become very passionate about it. And people love it,” White said in the post-UFC 100 press conference. “And the more and more people we touch, the more and more people we're going to infect.

"This thing's only getting bigger. It's not getting smaller."

Proof that Mexican fight fans — long known for their loyalty and love for homegrown boxers such as the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez — tuned into UFC 100 came last week when Grupo Televisa released IPOBE ratings indicating the viewership for the event at Mandalay Bay surpassed that of a boxing event and soccer match airing at the same time in Mexico.

“We definitely knew that the Mexican people were hungry for the UFC,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman and chief executive of UFC. “We paved the way with the WEC, which was getting a great response in Mexico, and we knew that once you put this program on free TV, it would work.”

A week prior to UFC 100, two of the UFC’s biggest-named Mexican fighters — lightweight Efrain Escudero and heavyweight Cain Velasquez — participated in a press conference in Mexico City that announced the UFC’s partnership with Grupo Televisa, the world’s largest media company for Spanish-speaking audiences.

“That press conference was awesome,” said Escudero, a native of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico. “It was something I had never experienced before, and the Mexican people treated me great. I really enjoyed it.”

Velasquez, who will fight fellow undefeated heavyweight Shane Carwin at UFC 104 in Los Angeles in October, said he firmly believes that fighting, such as “boxing, wrestling and bullfighting,” are a naturally inherited trait of all Mexicans.

“I think it’s in our blood,” said Velasquez, who with a win over Carwin could earn a title shot against heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar. “We love a good fight and to see someone leave it all out there -- that’s our style.

“We go out and fight with all our hearts. If the fans know you were out there and pretty much gave it all and didn’t give up, they’re behind you 100 percent; if you go out there and you gave up, they’ll disown you. You cannot do that.”

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Velasquez said that while he grew up in a family that idolized boxers, he never had a heavyweight with Hispanic heritage to look up to. He said he would welcome the opportunity to inspire young Mexicans and Americans to get involved in MMA.

“I’d be honored if I could be that person for someone,” said Velasquez, who certainly had to inspire fight fans from both countries with his survival victory over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99 in June.

After getting rocked by a couple of big shots from Kongo, the All-American wrestler from Arizona State rode out a victory with his superior ground game.

“To see a Mexican who was on top of his sport was something awesome to watch,” Velasquez continued. “Growing up, we didn’t really have anyone up in the media. There was no one in the movies or music, so we watched the guys who were in sports, and that was pretty much in boxing.”

White, the longtime boxing fan and former trainer, said the UFC would utilize the aspects that make boxing so big in Mexico to spread their fight game with the aid of such Mexican UFC stars as Edgar Garcia, Roger Huerta and Diego Sanchez.

The deal with Grupo Televisa could mean an upcoming season of “The Ultimate Fighter” could have a Mexico-themed show like “TUF” No. 9’s U.S. vs. U.K. premise.

"Once we get Mexico rolling it's going to take some time. I'd like to do something like we did, 'The Ultimate Fighter: U.S. vs. U.K.' (with) U.S. vs. Mexico, U.K. vs. Mexico, Canada vs. Mexico," White said.

Of course, then it would only be a matter of time before a major UFC event invades Mexico.

“That would be my dream come true,” Escudero said.

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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