Friday, June 12, 2009 | 6 p.m.
- What: UFC's first show in Germany (Main Event: Wanderle Silva vs. Rich Franklin)
- When: Saturday, June 13, Noon PT
- Where: Cologne, Germany
- TV: Pay-per-view
UFC president Dana White is no stranger to fighting for mixed martial arts’ legitimacy.
The outspoken leader of the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization has had to confront doubters of his sport even before Sen. John McCain branded it "human cockfighting."
So the rocky reception for the promotion’s first foray into Germany on Saturday at UFC 99 in Lanxess Arena in Cologne — which has included a local child-protection group helping to ban fans 17 and younger from attending, false media reports that depict the event as a no-holds-barred sport with bare knuckles and few rules, where matches can even end in death — came as no surprise to White or head UFC officials.
“This is what we deal with,” White told reporters on a conference call earlier in the week. “I remember when we went into the U.K., Lorenzo (UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta) and I were literally in a hotel room dealing with stuff right up until we went to the event. It's all part of the process.
“This is nothing new. Just this is a little more public than most places we go to.”
Indeed Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, offers a representative view of how a great deal of Europe negatively views a sport that only a decade ago received similar criticism in the United States because of its lack of regulations.
Main event participant and UFC veteran Rich Franklin, who will fight Wanderlei Silva Saturday during the event that airs via pay-per-view at noon in Las Vegas, views part of his responsibility as informing the new audience of the sport’s veracity.
“For me, it is kind of a deja vu to 1997, United States. It's kind of bittersweet. I'm almost interested to see how this plays out so it kind of keeps me excited to be part of it. But at the same time, it's tiresome to constantly be defending yourself for something when I'm at the point now where I just don't feel like I need to anymore defend the sport,” the 34-year-old Franklin, who has fought in Belfast, Montreal and Dublin in the past two years, told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
“We've got a great track record with safety, we've done the best that we can do, given the fact that it's a full-contact sport, with sanctioning and rules and all that kind of stuff.
“I think this will play out like it did in the U.K. Once the Germans are educated somewhat about the sport, they'll grow to accept it a little more.”
Adding even more turmoil to White’s frustration with educating reporters and German citizens was European broadcast giant Setanta Sports’ shaky financial situation, which endangered television audiences in Europe from being able to watch the broadcast.
But White informed fans Friday via his Twitter account: “UK fans UFC 99 will air on setanta live!!! Spread the word.”
The UFC president downplayed any disappointment he had for some negative situations in Germany, saying it takes time for the UFC to prove itself, but Saturday night there will be more than a few new fans.
"Everybody always asks me if I'm frustrated or aggravated. I'm used to it. It's a process, and it takes time," White said.
“It's what we do. We get in there and educate people. We've got Germany done, and we're going for France next."
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.