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UFC Road Blog:

Portland fans backing hometown hero in first-ever UFC event

Fans still thanking Henderson for knocking out Bisping


Andy Samuelson

UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, left, poses with former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio Nogueira at the UFC 102 pre-fight news conference in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009.

Updated Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009 | 4 p.m.

Fireside Chat with Dana White: UFC 102

UFC President Dana White is known for sitting down with media members at every pre-fight press conference to answer any and all questions about his organization. In our first installment of Fireside Chat, White discusses everything from a contract extension for Randy Couture, to Chuck Liddell on Dancing with the Stars.

Day 5: Saturday

3:30 p.m. — Pacific Northwesterns and New Yorkers alike ready for historic bout

PORTLAND, Ore. — If tickets sales are a little shy of what UFC officials had hoped for its first-ever event in the Pacific Northwest, the fans already lining up outside the Rose Garden Arena an hour before the first fight certainly aren’t indicative of a sales slump.

A line at least a hundred deep lined up outside the box office window, and most of them are ready to root on their hometown hero Randy Couture.

“He’s just a great guy, why wouldn’t you cheer for him,” said Jason Smith, who along with three buddies made the near three-hour train ride from Federal Way, Wash., located in between Seattle and Tacoma, to Portland to watch their favorite fighter.

Twenty-five-year-old Jim Rearden is blown away by what “The Natural” is able to do as a fighter that is two decades older than him.

“He’s the Brett Favre of MMA,” Rearden said. “It’s pretty amazing what he’s doing.”

What wasn’t amazing was the train ride. “It sucked,” said 21-year-old Jason Berkland, who made the trip with his older brother Curtis.

“But the weigh-ins and the atmosphere more than made up for the train,” Curtis quickly chimed in.

It wasn’t just the buddies from the Pacific Northwest that made the trek to Portland, the Dunkerton brothers from East Meadow, New York (former welterweight champ Matt Serra’s hometown) and buddy Sean Wachsberger hopped on a plane for the historic heavyweight battle between Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

The New Yorkers seemed just as pumped to see Couture, who was born Everett, Wash. and spent 14 years in Oregon where he was a wrestling coach at Oregon State, as the hometown fans.

But if fighters aren’t lying their heart on the line tonight the New Yorkers won’t hesitate to let them hear about it (Oliver Stone would get along great with these guys who had more than a few interesting MMA theories).

Despite a suspicion or two, the trio’s knowledge of the sport was unbelievable and their passion even greater.

“We were gonna make the trip to Philadelphia, but we could only go to one shows so we chose Portland,” Wachsberger said.

“We came here to watch the two legends go at it.”

— Andy Samuelson

Day 4: Friday

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UFC's Dan Henderson talks to fans at a Q&A session in Portland, Ore. before UFC 102 in this file photo.

2:00 p.m. — Thanks Dan!

Middleweight contender Dan Henderson was on hand an hour before weigh-ins to answer questions from the UFC Fight Club.

In addition to a Q and A session with the former PRIDE champion, the hour-long segment turned into an opportunity for fans to thank Henderson for his explosive knockout of United Kingdom fighter Michael Bisping at UFC 100.

Henderson was gracious for the gratitude and told the fans it was really his pleasure.

"I beat him up and everyone thanks me for it," Henderson said. "Honestly, it was a pleasure to do it, you don't have to thank me for it. Nobody enjoyed it more than I did.

Ever since that fight, Henderson has been very open on his belief that he deserves the next shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva. That decision can only come from UFC President Dana White who says that he will deliberate after seeing what happens between Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia this Saturday.

When asked which fighter he thought would emerge victorious in that one, Henderson leaned towards Denver-resident Marquardt.

"Marquardt seems to be good enough to keep from getting submitted, but Maia is one of the best at that in the UFC," he said. "I may be looking forward to that fight the most Saturday, it should be interesting."

Day 3: Thursday

2:30 p.m. — White says ticket sales are fine

Like most visitors who first touch down in P-town, Dana White noticed the coolness of the city — in both the weather and its identity.

“This is my first time actually coming to Portland. This is my first time coming to Oregon, period. It’s pretty cool. I like the weather,” said White during Thursday’s UFC 102 press conference at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.

“Very happy to be here; it’s been a long time coming. We almost came to Portland about a year ago with a Randy Couture fight. I don’t remember why it didn’t work out, but it didn’t and that doesn’t matter cause we’re here now. We’ve got a good card Saturday night that we are very excited about.”

While rumors suggest that ticket sales have been slumping for the first-ever UFC event in the Pacific Northwest, White assured reporters that was not the case.

“Did we come in here and blow it out of the water and sell out and everything? No,” said White of the venue that seats 20,000-plus for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. “But in this economy right now, we go in and sell 10,000 tickets … I’m pumped.

“Baseball and basketball and all these other big, major sports right now are hurting. People aren’t buying tickets, people aren’t spending money. People are being laid off, people don’t have jobs. Believe me, I’m very happy with how we’ve done in Portland.”

White said it was the same outlook he had when the UFC debuted in Philadelphia earlier this month.

“I was questionable in Philly,” White said. “But we killed it in Philly, and it was great. The way I look at it here, we killed it here, too. Dallas is going great. I’m not living in a bubble, man, I know what’s going on out there.

“We’re not raising prices, we’re not raising pay-per-view prices. If anything, when we go into certain markets, we’ll adjust to that market.”

— Andy Samuelson

3:15 p.m. — White backs Vick

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White said he fully backed Michael Vick, who was playing for the first time since going to prison Thursday night.

When a question came up about Portland-based fighter Chris Leben, who is returning from a nine-month steroid suspension, White used the platform as an opportunity to show his support for NFL superstar Michael Vick, who spent 18 months in prison for his role in running a dog fighting ring.

“I've never seen anything as cruel. Whatever he did to those animals, man, he's paid for it — a million times over,” White said. “There's no bigger Michael Vick fan in the world than me. … I'm the biggest Michael Vick fan on earth, man, I'm a New England Patriots guy but I'm a Philadelphia Eagles fan this year, man. I'm going Vick. I hope this guy does it."

White said Leben, who tested positive for steroids after his UFC 89 fight against Michael Bisping, doesn’t deserve any more punishment than the suspension and forfeit of a third of his purse from the bout in Birmingham, England.

"What am I going to do to him now? Why would I hurt these guys any more than they've already been hurt,” White said.

“I don't care if you're an athlete, you're an actor, who you are, we're all human beings and we all make mistakes. And in regulated sports or in society, you have to pay your dues. You get in trouble or whatever, what society says you have to do you have to do. Once you've paid that debt to society, leave me alone. Let me get back in and do my thing.”

— Andy Samuelson

3:30 p.m. — White reflects on passing of Frank Fertitta Jr.

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Frank Fertitta Jr.

White said there likely would not be any memorial bell or activity at Saturday’s show for the recent passing of Frank Fertitta Jr., the father of co-owner Lorenzo and Frank III. The Fertittas will not attend the event in Portland and White will fly back to Las Vegas Saturday morning for the 11 a.m. service at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, and then fly back for the event that night.

“You’ll never find anybody in that state say a bad word about Mr. Fertitta, that’s how good of a man he was,” White said. “When we bought the UFC, a family with that kind of reputation, (some people) were not thrilled about the Fertittas making that kind of purchase. Never once did Mr. Fertitta say, ‘You boys I don’t want you to do this.’

“Even back when they were getting crushed and we were losing $44 million, Mr. Fertitta was always a gentleman to me. He would always come down and talk to me. ‘What’s going on? What’s new, what’s this?' You couldn’t meet a better guy.”

White said in many ways Frank Fertitta Jr. filled a role he didn’t have growing up and said the fans of the UFC owe a great debt to the casino mogul.

“I didn’t have the family that he (Lorenzo) had growing up … My upbringing couldn’t have been any more opposite than the Fertittas were,” White said.

“When you really think about it, he was the reason the UFC is here today."

— Andy Samuelson

Day 2: Wednesday — Couture talks homecoming, possible future foe

2:30 p.m.

UFC 102 Workouts

Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Keith Jardine and Thiago Silva work out for the media before Saturday's UFC 102 event in Portland, Oregon.

While almost all the talk at Wednesday’s workout session centered on Randy Couture and his homecoming this weekend, “The Natural” did throw out a few other interesting tidbits.

After Saturday’s showdown with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Couture only has one fight left on his UFC contract. But the former wrestling coach at Oregon State says a new deal with UFC officials could be reached as early as this week.

One possible opponent for the 46-year-old legend might just be the UFC’s pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva, who was in the building helping out his fellow Brazilian Nogueira.

“I am intrigued by interesting fights and they certainly don’t get any more interesting than that,” said Couture, who views Saturday’s showdown as a top heavyweight title contender elimination bout.

“Those are definitely the type of fights you get up for.”

Couture said that fellow Xtreme Couture training partner Forrest Griffin is taking his UFC 101 loss to Silva in stride.

“He’s back in the gym training again. Forrest is Forrest. It might have taken a little while for the dust to settle,” Couture said. “In some ways he was a little embarrassed. He worked so hard and to have it go like that in the first round. He was upset with himself.

“That’s what came out and a lot of people hadn’t seen that side of him before.”

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Randy Couture talks with reporters Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront in Portland, Ore. The former UFC heavyweight champ takes on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 102 Saturday night at the Rose Garden Arena.

— Andy Samuelson

One more Couture tidbit to add.

I know some UFC fans out there are thinking that once Couture's current contract with the UFC expires (Saturday will be fight No. 2 on his current three-fight deal) retirement would be pretty likely. We're now fairly used to Couture turning back the clock year after year, but at 46 it seems physically impossible that there are many miles on the former light heavyweight AND heavyweight champion. Right?

Wrong. Couture revealed that he's in the process of negotiating a contract extension with the UFC right now and even speculated that it could be inked this week.

"We're working on something right now," he said. "I still have one more fight left but obviously we want to negotiate that now. Hopefully we'll have that done today or tomorrow. I've been with this organization for 12 years. We've had our differences and some of those differences still exist but I think we understand each other and there's a mutual respect on both sides of the table.

— Brett Okamoto

Day 1: Tuesday — Welcome to Portland

5:00 p.m.

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Picturesque Mt. Hood looms over downtown Portland, Ore., as seen from Washington Park Rose Garden in the city's west hills.

Immediately after touching down in Portland, Ore., it’s quite clear that “The City of Roses” is a lot different place than the UFC’s previous stop of Philadelphia.

Perhaps the only similarity is that both cities were hosting the premiere mixed martial arts organization for the first time.

Gone are the dingy smokestacks on the outskirts of the “City of Brotherly Love,” replaced with row after row of conifers stretching towards the sky.

More than a dozen bridges invade sight lines across the city as the multiple structures make for easy access across the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

We quickly learn the metropolitan area (home to more than 2 million), known for it free spirited residents, has a few vices of its own. We overhear a pair of Portland natives in the airport talking about how the city is home to more breweries than any other city in the U.S.

The home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers is also thought to have more strip clubs per capita than our very own Sin City.

We’ll have to take the locals at their word on that one.

— Andy Samuelson

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