Many of the UFC’s best and brightest were rolled out for today’s UFC media day, being held at the picturesque Adelaide Oval Stadium in South Australia. Fight News Australia was in attendance to cover all the day’s proceedings.
Trainer Ray Sefo led out middleweight prospect Brad Tavares for the first media scrum to have their way with. Brad spoke openly and forthright about lessons learned from his recent losses to Tim Boetsch and Yoel Romero, and how they led to his revamped attitude towards training and all other aspects of life. He felt the proof was there to be seen in his last fight where he handed out one of Nate Marquardt’s most punishing losses of his career. Brad also spoke of the challenge that Robert Whittaker presents, how unbelievably quickly he is improving as a fighter & how he has to approach this fight for the first time in his MMA career as both the odd’s-on favourite and older fighter.
Aussie Jake Matthews was up next, hailed as one of the UFC’s brightest pound for pound young talents. It turns out he’s also one of the most humble athletes on the roster too, speaking in detail about how he still can’t believe he’s even in the UFC and the amazing support that both the fans and especially his family have given him through the last couple of amazing years. He spoke fondly of how his mum sits front row at every one of his fights & how the UFC as an organisation have really opened their arms to both him and his family. Jake talked in detail about the challenge of bringing in taller training partners to try and get used to James Vick’s huge reach and height.
Australian prospect Robert Whittaker took his turn to face up to the media scrum, next. He was pretty media shy at first, but warmed to the crowd after being quizzed on his current UFC ping-pong / table-tennis ranking. Whittaker spoke openly of the challenge he felt laid ahead of him in much higher ranked and experienced Ray Sefo protege, Brad Tavares. Although he may give up a very narrow height & reach advantage, Robert felt confident in the stylistic match-up and his chances at being able to out-strike his Hawaiian opponent. He obviously felt the level of test for him here was significant, but was still confident in taking the victory. He also felt if he could dictate the pace of the fight, pressure and push the action where it needed to go, the fight is going to be his for the taking. He wouldn’t be drawn on any possible opponents for Melbourne’s UFC later in the year, because he really feels that you can’t ever look past who’s next for you in the UFC first and foremost. You can be out of here as quick as you came in.
One of the most experienced veterans of the UFC came out next, Australia’s own Anthony Perosh. Anthony spoke in detail about his training camp at the famed Team Jacksons over in the US, how he’d been lucky enough to have Jon Jones and the whole team there support him, spar with him and really help him get into career best shape. He was questioned about the response from the camp when the Jon Jones news came out last week, and while he wouldn’t comment on what the reaction was that day in the gym, he did comment that Jon is in his thoughts and he is hoping Jones is able to make a full recovery both personally and professionally from what happened.
Stipe Miocic was up next. He was brief but to the point with his answers. He really likes the match-up with Hunt, he thinks he’ll be fine keeping it standing but will more than likely be mixing up the strikes going forward with his NCAA Div 1 level wrestling. He commented on the lessons he learned from the Dos Santos fight and how it’s only helped him refine his technique, style and improve his conditioning even more and more – a facet of his game he believes will help him get past his Australian opponent, Mark Hunt. He expects a minority in the crowd to be supporting him on Sunday, albeit a vocal minority. But says not having the crowd behind him won’t stop him from beating Hunt. Sometimes silence is golden.
James Vick almost got left in the dust by the media, as he was brought out between Miocic and Hunt. The softly spoken American was visibly excited at his chance to travel and compete here in Australia. He felt the fight with Matthews was a great match-up, a good chance stylistically of being a fight of the night candidate, and overall the match-up just being a win-win scenario for him and the UFC. He said he’s seen a lot of fight tape on Matthews and is very impressed with what he has seen so far. He’s expecting a fast paced fight and won’t be surprised at all with the impending pressure and action Matthews will likely bring.
Anthony Perosh’s opponent Sean O’Connell came out to face the media next. In what was by far the highlight of all the fighters and staff interviewed today, Sean took on any and all comers, including being the only fighter to go near the Reebok sponsorship issue with a 40-foot pole. Sean started off by discussing the challenge awaiting him in Anthony Perosh, a fighter he believes to be one of the smartest in the UFC, with a deadly combination of elite world class BJJ and the ability to knock people out cold. He spoke of how lucky he felt having the wealth of experience in his training staff and of mentor and former UFC legend Jeremy Horn to fall back on for advice. Sean made it clear that he believes the best way through Perosh is going to have to be via a fast and furious knockout, because otherwise it’s going to be a drag out knockdown war given their stylistic matchup and to be quite frank, he could do without the head injuries.
Sean then took on a number of controversial issues without concern, one after the next. He spoke of the reality, albeit sad reality, in professional sports of that so long as you’re an entertaining fighter, it rarely makes much difference what you do outside the octagon or ring and that fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr are prime examples of this. If a multiple time charged and convicted woman beater can still earn 100’s of millions of dollars a fight, then what chance is there that fighters as professional athletes will be held to basic standards. This brought up a line of questioning about Jon Jones and his thoughts on what the most recent devastating incident were. Sean commented about how he can’t really empathize with the fighters that chose to do drugs and associate with unsavoury individuals because he’s just a regular guy earning a blue collar amount of money in the UFC and he spends his nights sleeping after long days at the gym and can’t really wrap his head around how some other fighters don’t seem to be the same way. He openly acknowledged that fighters use drugs and PED’s, but that’s just a fact of any and all professional sports. It’s no less or more endemic in MMA and the UFC. He doesn’t condone the use of them or use them himself, but he thinks it would be silly to ignore the fact that they are just part of the game, as far as many fighters and trainers are concerned.
Lastly was the question no one else was willing to even respond too, today, apart from Mark Hunt. The Reebok decision and sponsorship in general. Sean was keen to impress right away that this was going to be his opinion, and his opinion only on the matter. After a quick pause to think the answer through carefully, he commented that he felt disappointed that under the structure of the deal, he was going to be earning per fight in the UFC in terms of sponsorship money, less than what he would receive from even just one single local sponsor, assuming that was a fight on just a regional show, let alone the UFC. Being that you have multiple sponsors (local, state and national), this was a substantial amount of loss in revenue as a professional athlete. Having said that though, he was also keen to impress upon the media scrum that the reality is, it’s the UFC’s decision to make and they made that decision for a multitude of business reasons, and would clearly and undoubtedly realise that the decision will lead possibly to fighters handing in their resignation. The UFC will likely not take exception to this, as the list of guys waiting to come in and replace them is massive. For fighters like Sean, this presents a real mixed bag of options to weigh-up, professionally. The reality for him in taking these considerations into a career decision right now, is that for the fighters that this effects far greater than him, they are possibly and likely going to resign, and in a decent number as well. That likely scenario for him means that there’s less competition for him then in the UFC and less people between where he is right now and where he’s aiming to progress too in the rankings – the top. Sean is openly betting that as fighters possibly walk out of the UFC over this loss of income, it’s going to mean more money and a shorter road to that greater income. He’s really not sure how this is all going to work out for everyone, or if the UFC will even keep the course they are on in terms of reducing opportunities for fighters to earn money. But for now he believes it’s what is best for him and he has no issue with the fact that the UFC have clearly made a business decision here that’s simply just best for them. He accepts that the UFC are his employer at this point in time, he’s not looking elsewhere and accepts that scenario’s like this are part of the business and part of the sport. He finished the line of questions by stating that he personally believes that unequivocally MMA is still a developing and growing sport. It is not a place for millionaires or those looking to get rich. He believes that fighters are free to pursue their financial goals as they see fit, but believes you’d have to be delusional if you think you’re going to be earning NFL, Soccer, Basketball or Mayweather money. The sport will more than likely end up on that level one day, maybe for the next generation of young fighters coming through, but the reality is that we just aren’t at that place yet and that sometimes hard decisions like the UFC have made with Reebok here are just indicative of them trying as an organisation to push the sport and the UFC up into that next level. What sucks right now may really pay off in 5-10 years’ time. Back in the here and now though, more than anything, he is just unbelievably grateful for the chance to travel, compete and fight in the UFC, and earn an income in the process – something his coaches and predecessors weren’t lucky enough to have.
Mark Hunt rounded out the fighters presented to the media scrum today, and it was a light-hearted and funny note to end on. Mark fielded questions on fighter pay, injuries and where he’s looking too next, but for the most part was just happy to talk about his favourite topics – who’s turn it is to bring him some food next and his current favourite bogan Aussie TV shows on SBS (Housos, Fat Pizza, Bogan Hunters and of course where would be without the combined artistic brilliance that was the follow on to those – Fat Pizza vs Housos). Mark was keen to talk about his excitement about the opportunity to fight a top ranked opponent like Stipe Miocic, but more importantly, how excited he was to just fight someone who wouldn’t run away from him the entire fight & then occasionally superman dive at him for a piss-weak takedown attempt. Mark had not much to say about the Reebok sponsorship issue other than joking about his now crushing disappointment in not being able to have KFC sponsor him for this or his next fight now. On a serious note though, he did comment that it didn’t really affect him much, because he wears his own line of fightwear and the UFC have no issue with allowing him to do that. Mark commented on how he was really looking forward to fighting in front of the Adelaide crowd, especially given the massive community and attendance we get here for out MuayThai and Kickboxing shows, as well as the local MMA events. He’s very much hoping that crowd support will keeping him going forward and going forward hard & deep into this likely war with Miocic.