"This is, without a doubt, the biggest fight in UFC history."
That was then. Company president/barker Dana White spoke those words around 10,000 times during the months of hype for last Saturday night's heavyweight championship bout that, all by its lonesome, encompassed the hour-long UFC on Fox telecast, the fight promotion's debut on network television.
This is now. Just like last weekend and the one before that and the one before that, the UFC has another evening of goosebumps it would like to interest you in. But this time the selling point is not a title bout/TV milestone (last week) or an international event on basic cable (two weeks ago) or even a confirmed No. 1 contender eliminator (three weeks ago).
With the exhausting mixed martial arts schedule of the past month, you could imagine Dana having a hard time selling the $54.95 pay-per-view telecast of UFC 139 to anyone but close relatives. (And considering how sadly uncivil the poor guy's own mother has been to him of late, maybe even those sales wouldn't be a shoo-in.) Luckily for White, Saturday's event in San Jose, Calif. (9 p.m. ET, PPV), has three robust marketing touchpoints: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Dan "Hendo" Henderson and a meeting between two fighters whose parallel paths have nearly but not quite intersected through all the years they've both been stalwarts of their sport.
Rua (20-5) is a former UFC light heavyweight champion. He held the belt for less than a year, though, seizing it with an emphatic knockout of Lyoto Machida in his second shot at "The Dragon" in May 2010, then losing it no less emphatically to Jon Jones via TKO 10 months later. Before that, he was with the Pride Fighting Championships, most notably capturing the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix championship. He knocked out Ricardo Arona in the title bout, after getting there with an impressive trio of wins over Alistair Overeem (TKO), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (decision) and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (TKO). Shogun is just 29, but it seems as though he's been around forever.
And now "Hendo" is returning to the fight organization for which he first competed way back in '98 at UFC 17, when he beat two opponents in one night -- yes, it was the old days -- to win a middleweight tournament. In between the early UFC and his Strikeforce reign, Dan fought for many years in Japan, mostly for Pride. When the organization was bought by the UFC's parent company and disbanded, Henderson was simultaneously the champion in both the welterweight (185-pound) and middleweight (205-pound) divisions.
When Hendo and Shogun finally clash, we might end up with an impact similar to last weekend's. I'm not drawing a comparison to the influence of Velasquez vs. Dos Santos in the big-picture sense -- pundits and fans still are abuzz about what that title fight telecast, which peaked at an MMA-record 8.802 million viewers, means for the sport's mainstream incursion in the long term.
No, I am using the word
Think something is about to give?
"I guess I can get knocked out just like anybody else," said Henderson said during a UFC 139 conference call with MMA media on Wednesday. "I've been lucky not to get hit on the button in my fights. Good luck to him on that one."