If there is a different feeling in the air this week leading up to the UFC’s debut on network television, don’t tell that to the two men who will star in the show.
Both champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos are playing it pretty cool before Saturday’s heavyweight title bout on the Fox network, which figures to be the most-watched fight in UFC history and one company president Dana White handpicked for this all-important introduction to many mainstream viewers.
For his part, the steady-eddy champ wouldn’t cop to feeling any different than normal during Wednesday’s public press conference at Nokia Plaza in Los Angeles.
“It’s just fight week,” Velasquez said when asked about the enormity of this event. “That’s what it feels like to me, it feels the same as any other fight. I’m ready to go out there. I’ve had a long layoff, but I’m excited to be back.”
Such understatements are probably to be expected from Velasquez, who has essentially made a career out of being unassuming outside the cage and devastating inside it. As he prepares to make his first title defense on the biggest stage the sport has yet seen, against a challenger undefeated in the UFC and after nearly 13 months on the shelf after shoulder surgery, he offered no signs that he’s feeling the heat.
Dos Santos too has appeared immune to any prefight yips, even as people keep asking him about it, keep prompting him about how many people will be watching and what it might mean to his career if he can walk out of Anaheim’s Honda Center with the championship on Saturday night.
“I’m really, really excited for this fight, but no pressure,” dos Santos said at the presser. “I’m just feeling the same pressure I felt in my last fight. It’s huge for me and I just want to enjoy it.”
White, thankfully, is decidedly not playing it so cool. The always-entertaining UFC front man has admitted he is on edge this week, saying he’s been feeling the kind of nerves he hasn’t felt since early in his career as an MMA promoter some 11 years ago. He brokered this deal with Fox, he picked this fight to kick it off and if dos Santos and Velasquez somehow don’t live up to what’s expected of them this weekend, White will likely come away holding the bad PR bag.
Of course, he can’t help but feel a little bit of satisfaction, too. Since he and his business partners bought the UFC a bit more than a decade ago, network television has always been the holy grail. Now they’re here, so while he’s keeping his white-knuckled fingers crossed that absolutely everything goes as planned, he’s also open to offering the kind of reflection that neither of his principal fighters will indulge.
“One of the best parts for me in this Fox deal is, I’ve been in this sport for a long time,” White said. “I know all these guys, I know what kind of people they are, I know how hard they work, I know what kind of athletes they are. Now for them to be on Fox and on par with the NFL, Major League Baseball and all the other major sports, that’s what makes me the most proud.”