Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Daily News
Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Sun Expanded Coverage
PHILADELPHIA — The UFC makes its Pennsylvania debut and first show on the East Coast tonight for the first time since UFC 78 took place in Newark, New Jersey in November of 2007.
Some 17,000 fans are expected to pack the Wachovia Center for a lightweight title fight between B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian and a co-main event between superstars Anderson Silva and the Las Vegas-based Forrest Griffin.
Here’s a breakdown of the major storylines:
1. “This ain’t Vegas”
Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb warned the fighters that Philly is unlike any fight city they’ve been to. Sirb said the town that made “Rocky” famous will reward you, if you reward them. If not, you might want to duck and cover. Afterall, not even Santa Claus was safe from Eagle fans’ furry in the form of snowballs.
“If you bring your ‘A’ game, (the crowd) will bring their ‘A’ game. If you bring your ‘B’ game, they’ll bring their ‘B’ game,” Sirb said. “And the ‘B’ game is you-know-what. They’ll boo you if you bring your ‘B’ game.”
2. Audition for NYC
No doubt plenty of fans, regulators and even legislators will be making the 100-mile trek from New York City. Mixed martial arts regulations in New York hit a snag during a legislative recess earlier this year.
While it has taken longer than expected, UFC president Dana White remains steadfast that sanctioning in New York soon.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter how much time it takes, it’s gonna get done,” White said. “The sport isn’t going anywhere, it’s only getting bigger. New York will happen.”
After harsh criticism for his atypical performances in wins over Patrick Côté and Thales Leites, Silva will certainly have to engage with the always-engaging Griffin.
“I thought my fights were great last time, but most people weren’t too happy with my performances,” said Silva, who owns a UFC record nine straight wins. “This is the fight they thought would be the kind of fight that people want to watch.”
After getting pounded by Georges St. Pierre in the Octagon in January, and taking a licking for the “Greasegate” allegations he levied against GSP in the court of public opinion, Penn will try to prove he’s back and better than ever as he makes his first title defense in more than a year.
5. Home away from home
Florian fights out of Boston, but there’s little doubt Philly fight fans will side with the East Coaster.
“It’s great, man, it’s like my little welcome home party," said Florian, who has won six straight.
"It’s nice knowing that my friends and family don’t have to travel too far to support me, so personally it’s definitely a plus to be fighting in Philadelphia."
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.