Archive for April, 2012

Experts’ predictions for Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson II

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Bernard Hopkins (left) and Chad Dawson (right) finally get the opportunity to settle their score Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. (AP)

SI.com’s boxing experts predict Saturday’s light heavyweight title fight between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson (10:15 p.m. ET, HBO). Share your prediction in the comments below.

CHRIS MANNIX

Betting against Hopkins has proven hazardous, as the 47-year old tactician has repeatedly defied the odds. But there is a certain type of fighter Hopkins can still take — big, bruising, brawlers — and Dawson isn’t one of them. This won’t be the most exciting fight, with Dawson snapping that long jab from a distance and Hopkins rushing in head-first to get on the inside. But it won’t be controversial, either. Dawson is on a different level than Hopkins and should cruise to a comfortable points win. Dawson by unanimous decision.

RICHARD O’BRIEN

To make a prediction about a rematch you usually start with the first fight, but the initial encounter between Hopkins and Dawson was so truncated and the ending so ambiguous that it’s really almost as if this is the first bout. The same questions remain: Can Hopkins use his bottomless bag of tricks, his ring smarts and his patience to nullify Dawson’s youth and athleticism? Can he take the younger fighter deep into the bout without taking too much damage along the way and then start to score with his own, always, careful offense?

A lot depends on how focused Dawson is; he has a tendency to look brilliant for stretches in fights and then let down for stretches. His trainer, John Scully, is intent on having Dawson put it all together this time, and for his part, Dawson sounds determined to make a definitive statement about his place in the pound-for-pound standings. “I don’t want to just beat Bernard,” he has said. “I want to make him look stupid and make him look old.”

Well, I can see the “make him look old” part, but I don’t think anyone can make Bernard Hopkins look stupid. The fight goes longer this time — all 12 rounds. Hopkins will have his moments, but Dawson’s work rate — led by that long jab — will wear down the old champion and allow Dawson to shine in the later rounds. Dawson by unanimous decision.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM

It was back in 2007 when Dawson (then a light heavyweight beltholder) first emerged as a logical opponent for Hopkins, who at 41 had just upset Antonio Tarver for the recognized 175-pound championship — a ceiling his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, could never crack. It was billed as Hopkins going out on top, yet more than five years later he’s still here, a legitimate world champion taking on opponents in or around the pound-for-pound top 15 and making history with every outing. But styles make fights, and a rangy, technically sound boxer-puncher is simply a problematic matchup for the 47-year-old marvel. It’s no wonder a fighter as schooled as B-Hop wasn’t in a hurry to fight him; Dawson was, and is, tailor-made to end Hopkins’ career.

All logic indicates the younger, primer challenger presses his advantages in size, reach and athleticism to cruise to a points victory over Hopkins, a 3-to-1 underdog, not least because the 29-year-old Dawson has thus far proven impervious to the Philadelphian’s psychological tactics. This is his moment. Yet something about this scenario must feel comfortable to the champion: he was the spoiler in aborted coronations against Tarver (he was 3-to-1 underdog), Winky Wright (2-to-1) and Kelly Pavlik (4-to-1) — and was a 2-to-1 longshot in his first fight with Jean Pascal, a draw many thought Hopkins won. Dawson’s public mockery of the injury that led to a no-contest in October’s first meeting cast doubt on the professionalism and warrior’s spirit that are Hopkins’ essence. You’d never know it due to the effective vow of silence he took throughout the promotion — HBO must have been thrilled — but the blow to Hopkins’ reputation stings worse than any head shot and he’ll be motivated by redemption. It says here the cagey veteran — blending the economical offense, slippery defense and unmatched ring intelligence — conjures one last time-cheating performance on the boardwalk where he began his career (with a loss!) nearly a quarter-century ago. Hopkins by split decision.


  • Published On Apr 27, 2012
  • Alistair Overeem license request denied at Nevada athletic commission hearing

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    Alistair Overeem's license application was denied Tuesday in a meeting of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. (Kari Hubert/Zuffa LLC)

    UFC heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem’s license application was denied by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Tuesday in Las Vegas, but the fighter will have the opportunity to re-apply again after Dec. 27, nine months from the date he submitted to a random drug test that revealed elevated testosterone in his system.

    Overeem, who’d been removed from a headlining bout against champion Junior dos Santos at UFC 146 on May 26 in Las Vegas by the event’s promoters last Friday, also denied allegations that he had fled the scene once the March 27 random drug testing had been announced following a UFC press conference. Overeem said he hadn’t been told of the testing until he was en route to his lawyer’s office and returned for the test after he was notified.

    After nearly three hours of testimony, the NSAC voted 4-0 to shorten the standard one-year waiting period for licensee denials, noting that Overeem and his legal team had presented a “superlative” explanation as to why Overeem’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio had come back at 14:1 — more than two times higher than the state’s allowable 6:1 threshold.

    David Chesnoff, Overeem’s Las Vegas-based attorney, initially asked for a 45- to 60-day continuance to fortify his client’s case, but the NSAC unanimously denied the request.

    Attorney Chesnoff told commissioners that the 31-year-old Dutch fighter’s T:E ratio had been heightened after he’d taken two anti-inflammatory shots provided to him by Dallas physician Dr. Hector Molina in January 2012. Dr. Molina had previously examined the fighter during Overeem’s application process with the Texas Dept. of Licensing and Regulation for a bout against Fabricio Werdum at Strikeforce in June 2011.

    Chesnoff’s presentation focused on establishing a timeline to show that Overeem hadn’t taken the medication in the vicinity of a competitive bout and that he never intended it to give him a performance-enhancing edge.

    Under oath, Overeem said he’d sought out the physician on another fighter’s recommendation primarily for a re-aggravated rib injury while on the road for a promotional tour and was given a mixed shot for the pain on Jan. 12 in Molina’s office that was ultimately revealed to contain a steroid-based component.

    Overeem said he’d also self-injected a second shot from the same vial, given to him by Dr. Molina, on March 23 in Las Vegas under the physician’s direction — four days before the NSAC conducted its random tests. When asked, Overeem told the commission that he hadn’t asked Dr. Molina what was in the medication and the physician had never specified the shot contained steroid-based elements.

    However, in separate testimony, Dr. Molina said he’d used the trade name for an aqueous testosterone in the mixture, when describing the medication to the athlete. In later testimony, Dr. Molina admitted he wasn’t sure what names he’d used in describing the drug cocktail he gave the fighter.

    Throughout the testimony, both Overeem and his attorneys stated that the fighter had withdrawn from the UFC heavyweight title bout voluntarily, something that hasn’t been confirmed by the promotion to date. Overeem said he’d withdrawn from the bout to clear his name.

    – Loretta Hunt


  • Published On Apr 24, 2012
  • Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen rescheduled for UFC 148 in Las Vegas

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    Anderson Silva (left) and Chael Sonnen (right) will finally wage their anticipated rematch at UFC 148 in Las Vegas on July 7. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

    Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen are still scheduled to meet this summer, and that’s good news for fight fans.

    But some bad news surrounding the rematch came Tuesday morning when the Brazilian UFC middleweight champion, his self-proclaimed beltholder of an opponent and Dana White, the fight organization’s president, showed up in Rio de Janeiro to announce that the bout no longer would be held in a stadium there on June 23, as scheduled, but was being moved to July 7 in Las Vegas.

    The fight hasn’t exactly lost its luster — Vegas has more of that than anywhere else on the planet — but it’s lost a good bit of the grit and righteousness that have made this rematch’s backstory so intriguing.

    You see, the fight is not simply between Silva and Sonnen. Chael, with his WWE-style bluster, has turned it into him vs. Brazil with his trash-talk ridicule of the country’s top fighters and even the nation itself. The mockery of the Nogueira brothers, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva and the like is fair game; they’re all big boys who can take care of themselves. But Sonnen’s rhetoric about Brazil has veered into ugly-American xenophobia.

    “When I was a little kid, I remember going outside and sitting with my friends,” Sonnen said during the press conference. “We’d talk about the latest technology and medicine and gaming and American ingenuity.” Then he brought his story to the present day to draw a contrast, saying, “And I’d look outside and Anderson and the Brazilian kids are sitting outside playing the mud.”

    That’s Chael at his mildest. In past diatribes, he’s characterized Brazil as backward in far more insulting ways. And he’s done so with little or no backlash, as the MMA media — and I must lump myself in the horde, unfortunately — mostly just yuks it up with the guy.

    So Brazil deserved its shot at Sonnen. Sure, he appeared Tuesday in a Rio conference room, and I half-expected to see a shoe thrown at his head, a la George W. Bush before the Baghdad media. But a press conference isn’t enough. After talking the talk, he should have been made to walk the walk — that is, stroll out to the octagon in a soccer stadium filled with Brazilians excited to see him get beat up by the champ.

    It’s just not going to work out in Brazil, however. My first thought upon hearing of the fight’s relocation was that the UFC feared for Sonnen’s safety. That might actually be the reason, but the public explanation is that the Rio stadium event fell apart because of the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference taking place the same week, eating up hotel rooms and making a UFC event a logistical impossibilty. So there go the plans of sustainability for conference attendees who were hoping to catch the fights, too.

    There still will be a UFC 147 fight card in Brazil — there’s no date set, but it’ll be in an arena, not in a stadium, and still feature a showdown of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil coaches Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, plus the reality show’s middleweight and featherweight finals and a Fabricio Werdum-Mike Russow heavyweight bout. White said Tuesday he might also put featherweight champion José Aldo on the card. So it’s not all bad news for Brazilian fans.

    And by moving Silva-Sonnen II to Las Vegas, White has transformed UFC 148 into a Fourth of July fireworks spectacle. In addition to the fight for the middleweight championship, there also will be a bantamweight tile bout between The Ultimate Fighter: Live coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber plus a Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin rubber match (perhaps Tito’s final fight), Rich Franklin vs. Cung Le and Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch.

    All’s well that ends well, then? That’s what White would have you believe. “This is going to be a global event. If we were going to do it here in Brazil, it needed to be done in a huge soccer stadium,” he said. “As we got into the logistics of trying to make this thing happen here, we just couldn’t pull it off. If we couldn’t do it here, then Las Vegas was the only other option.”

    Silva took some convincing to make the move, according to While, although the champion was nothing but agreeable at the press conference. “I’m a UFC athlete, and I have fans all over the world,” he said. “Regardless of where this fight takes place, I will represent Brazil, and I will do my job and defend my belt.”

    That was the professional thing for him to say. But the fans in his home country deserved better.

    – Jeff Wagenheim


  • Published On Apr 24, 2012
  • Dana White fights off food poisoning, interacts with fans at UFC 145

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    Dana White interacts with his more than two million followers on Twitter during Saturday night's UFC 145 card in Atlanta. (Bryan Armen Graham/SI.com)

    ATLANTA — Dana White is a sick man.

    It’s 8:51 p.m. on fight night and the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship has just been shot up with two bags of IV fluids in an anonymously marked lounge in the bowels of Philips Arena. Food poisoning, he explains, from a bad turkey burger during last night’s red-eye from Las Vegas.

    “I can’t f—ing believe I’m standing here,” White says, nursing a three-quarters-full SmartWater bottle filled with a urine-colored fluid (“Pedialyte,” he says). “I thought I was going to die this morning. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t walk. I was sweating like someone sprayed me with a hose. I was sprawled out on the marble floor of my bathroom.”

    Yet White is on his feet, peering at a MacBook screen over the shoulder of Kristin Adams, the UFC’s 28-year-old social media whiz, who is busy engaging with celebrities and fans buzzing about tonight’s UFC 145 card. His attention diverts to the flatscreen TV showing the undercard bout currently happening outside between Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudaro.

    As Adams reads aloud tweets from celebrities posting about the fight — Criss Angel, Jerry Rice, Jim Norton, Kelly Slater — White dictates rapid-fire responses as he unboxes a new cell phone. He directs Adams to tweet out the number, offering his more than two million followers an opportunity to trade opinions with one of the most powerful and unorthodox executives in sports.

    White spoke on the phone Saturday night with several UFC fans, who called a phone number he posted on Twitter. (Bryan Armen Graham/SI.com)

    “There’s no service down here, they’re all going to voice mail,” he says. “Five voice mails, six voice mails, seven voice mails.”

    Finally the phone rings; a fan calling from Sweden made it through. “Who’s this?” White asks, before reassuring the voice on the other end, “I swear to God it’s really me.”

    Another caller rings from New Zealand. Another from North Carolina. Another calls from inside the arena and asks if he can attend the post-fight press conference. White gets an assistant to take down his seat location and cell phone number and makes it happen. “Thanks so much for the support, bro,” he says before clicking over to the next call.

    It’s White’s hands-on approach that’s helped make MMA the world’s fastest growing sport, but it’s his willingness to reach out and connect with the fans that create a brand loyalty that ensures they’ll be long-term customers.

    It’s hard to imagine Roger Goodell or David Stern shooting the bull with fans before an important game. “I don’t understand why though,” White says. “It’s so easy to do. It takes two seconds.”

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Apr 22, 2012
  • Intense staredown between Jon Jones, Rashad Evans at UFC 145 weigh-ins

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    ATLANTA — The well documented animosity between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans had seemed to abate during the week leading up to Saturday’s UFC light heavyweight title fight.

    Then came Friday’s weigh-ins at the Fox Theatre, where the two estranged friends and former training partners stepped on the scale — then came together for an intense staredown worthy of one of the biggest grudge matches in the promotion’s 19-year history.


    With the 4,678-seat erstwhile movie palace nearly filled to capacity, Evans (204 pounds) and Jones (205) both came in under the division limit. Both fighters drew mixed reactions from a crowd that seemed evenly divided in their support.

    “It’s been a bit different because of the media and everything, but at the same time, I enjoyed the process,” Evans told UFC commentator Joe Rogan. “It is a lot of emotion involved, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to stepping in the cage and fighting Jones.”

    “It’s a gigantic fight. I’m excited to be here, baby,” Jones said, amid an uncommon chorus of boos. “I’m ready to tear some heart out.”

    Every fighter made weight Friday except for John Makdessi, who came in three pounds over the lightweight limit of 155 pounds and will forfeit 20 percent of his purse to opponent Anthony Njokuani.

    Yesterday, Evans had observed how a fight actually starts at the weigh-ins. “It’s really the last time you see your guy before you see him in the cage,” he said. “You get to see his energy, feel his energy.”

    If the hostility exuding from both fighters Friday is any indication, their light heavyweight title showdown Saturday at Philips Arena should be a cracker.

    (Watch the entire weigh-ins here.)

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Apr 20, 2012
  • Chael Sonnen lets it fly in Q&A with fans

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    Chael Sonnen

    Chael Sonnen hugs a fan after inviting her on the Fox Theater stage on Friday. (Matt Dollinger/SI)

    ATLANTA — Chael Sonnen has never been one to shy away from contact or controversy.

    Regarded as one of the top middleweight fighters in the UFC, Sonnen is better known as the pound-for-pound trash-talking champion in a sport riddled with challengers. Not only is Sonnen one of the UFC’s biggest personalities, but he’s also one of its most quotable – challenging topics much like he does opponents.

    Promoting his new book, “The Voice of Reason: A VIP Pass to Enlightenment,” Sonnen graced the Fox Theater stage in Atlanta on Friday for a question-and-answer sessions with fans prior to the official UFC 145 weigh-ins.

    Sonnen’s next scheduled fight is a rematch against Anderson Silva at UFC 147 in Brazil, but reports are circulating that Sonnen-Silva II will be moved to UFC 148 in Las Vegas due to a logistical conflict with a United Nations conference in Rio slated for the same time of the original event.

    That might be a blessing for Sonnen, who saved his harshest words for Brazil and its many fighters, including Silva, on Friday. Rather than rehash everything that came out of Sonnen’s mouth (some of which this blog probably shouldn’t repeat), here are the top 10 PG-13 quotes from Sonnen’s memorable appearance in Atlanta:

    10) “The tooth brush was actually created in Brazil. If it’d been created anywhere inAmericaor somewhere else it’d be called the teeth brush.”

    9) “I’m not a martial artist, I’m an award-winning author. I don’t even know what the word ‘martial’ means. I’m not 100 percent I could spell it and I don’t think I could define it.”

    8) “I’ll never be a closet champion. Come one, come all.”

    7) “I haven’t even agreed to (fight Silva). My demand has not been met. Anderson has his list, I have but one request. There will be 80,000 people in attendance and my demand is simple: silence. When I come through the curtain, they will sit down and shut their mouths and show respect to their American guest. Or I will go back in my car, back to the airport, back toAmericaand (they) won’t even see me fight.”

    6) “I don’t think you can give yourself a ring name. When I was young they used to call me ‘foreman,’ not because I was in charge, but because I did the work of four men.”

    Read More…


  • Published On Apr 20, 2012
  • Experts’ predictions for UFC 145

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    Jon Jones (left) is a heavy favorite to defend his UFC light heavyweight title against Rashad Evans on Saturday night in Atlanta. (Kevin C. Cox/Zuffa LLC)

    SI.com analysts Ben Fowlkes, Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 145 on Saturday in Atlanta.

    Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans

    FOWLKES: Evans might have the best chance yet to find out what Jones can do off his back, but nothing I’ve seen from the current champ gives me any reason to doubt him. He might have a harder time with Evans than he did with Lyoto Machida, but I think Jones still gets his hand raised via a late finish. Jones by TKO.

    HUNT: At the end of the night, when Jones’ hand is raised, Evans — the most successful fighter to come out of The Ultimate Fighter series — can take stock in knowing that nobody can beat Jones right now except Jones himself. Jones by TKO.

    WAGENHEIM: I don’t know if Evans is good enough to beat the champ, but he’s good enough to give Jones what no one has given him before: a scrap. “Bones” has too much fight and too much flair, however, to skip to anyone else’s Lou. Jones by KO.

    WERTHEIM: Most anticipated fight on 2012 so far. Even discounting the obligatory trash talk as hype to pump pay-per-view buys, for the first time, Jones faces an opponent he truly dislikes. He’s younger, healthier, more creative and has a sizable reach advantage. Short of catching Jones, it’s hard to imagine Evans becoming the first fighter to solve the Jones riddle. Jones by decision.

    READERS: In an SI.com poll, 76 percent of our readers said Jones will beat Evans.

    Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills

    FOWLKES: Going from Chris Cope to Rory MacDonald is a huge leap in level of competition, and I’m not sure Mills is totally ready for it. Despite his age, MacDonald fights like a seasoned vet these days — one with very few weaknesses. MacDonald by TKO.

    HUNT: If Georges St-Pierre really called MacDonald the next St-Pierre as Dana White claims, that speaks volumes to what the UFC champ/future legend must be seeing training alongside the 22-year-old prospect. Mills, a European circuit vet, is in for a tough night. MacDonald by KO.

    WAGENHEIM: MacDonald was climbing the welterweight ladder hand over fist until an injury last fall stopped him cold. Now it’s time for the hot prospect to resume his ascent. MacDonald by submission.

    WERTHEIM: What does matchmaker Joe Silva know that we don’t? Mills might be a promising fighter but this is a big step up. McDonald — superior on every dimension — takes the fight to ground and wins by strikes. MacDonald by submission.

    READERS: In an SI.com poll, 59 percent of our readers said MacDonald will beat Mills.
    Read More…


  • Published On Apr 20, 2012
  • Stephen Thompson looks to build on scintillating debut at UFC 145

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    Stephen Thompson won six world kickboxing titles and amassed a mark of 63-0 as an amateur and pro before joining the UFC. (Kevin C. Cox/Zuffa LLC)

    ATLANTA — Of the six preliminary fights airing on FX before Saturday’s UFC 145 pay-per-view telecast, none is more intriguing than Stephen Thompson’s meeting with veteran Matt Brown.

    A six-time world champion kickboxer, Thompson became an overnight sensation in February with a spectacular first-round knockout of Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut, a four-minute stoppage that earned the Simpsonville, S.C., native a $65,000 bonus for the Knockout of the Night.

    “There is a little pressure [to follow up] a four-minute knockout in your first UFC fight,” Thompson, 28, said at Thursday’s open workouts at Georgia State University. “But you’re fighting better guys now. Matt Brown has been in the fight game for a very long time. He’s got a lot of experience. So I’m not expecting to go out and knock this guy out. If it happens, it happens.”

    The 32-year-old Brown felt his knockout of Chris Cope on the same card as Thompson’s debut was more deserving the bonus, making no secret of it. Ultimately, he asked to face Thompson — a request Dana White, no enemy to drama, was happy to grant.

    The media in Thompson’s native South Carolina have done their part to hype the fight. When Thompson appeared on a local radio station — “93.3 The Planet,” he recalled with a smile — Brown called into the station while his opponent was being interviewed on the air. (Brown confessed Thursday the radio station had orchestrated the dust-up by scheduling the call.)

    Thompson trained with Rashad Evans for a week in Florida while preparing for Saturday’s sophomore outing. The two first met when Thompson was flown to Albuquerque to help Evans prepare for his May 2009 fight with Lyoto Machida. They’ve kept up a good relationship and Thompson has been training with him ever since.

    And though Evans is a 5-to-1 underdog against Jon Jones in Saturday’s main event, Thompson is bullish on the former champion’s upset chances.

    “The guy’s a monster man, he’s a beast,” Thompson said. “He’s so ready. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, he’s there. So I’m excited to see that one.”

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Apr 20, 2012
  • Georges St-Pierre discusses UFC 145, injury recovery, move to middleweight

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    Georges St-Pierre made an unscheduled visit to the UFC 145 open workouts Thursday at Georgia State University in Atlanta. (Kevin C. Cox/Zuffa LLC)

    ATLANTA — Georges St-Pierre is the UFC welterweight champion and widely regarded as the biggest draw in mixed martial arts, having attracted more than 750,000 pay-per-view buys to six different events over the past four years.

    But he’s also a fan. And no one is looking forward to Saturday’s light heavyweight title showdown between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans more.

    “As a fan of the sport, it’s definitely a fight I want to see,” St-Pierre said Thursday at the Georgia State University Sports Arena, where several fighters on Saturday’s card held open workouts for media and fans. “Both of these guys are incredibly talented. I believe that a mistake from one of these two guys will be fatal.”

    St-Pierre, who turns 31 next month, hasn’t fought since making his seventh consecutive defense of the UFC’s 170-pound title with a points victory over Jake Shields in April 2011. He pulled out of an October defense against Carlos Condit due to a knee injury suffered in training. Two months later, it was revealed St-Pierre would be sidelined 10 months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

    “I’m in good shape now, but I’m not in fighting shape,” said St-Pierre, who explained the graft in his knee needs more time to fuse before he moves on from light exercise. “In two months it’s going to 100 percent. I don’t want to mess it up. If I try to jump or go too fast, I will have to do it all over again.”

    St-Pierre spoke highly of rising welterweight prospect Rory MacDonald, who fights Che Mills in Saturday’s co-feature bout. The 22-year-old MacDonald, who trains alongside St-Pierre at Tristar Gym in Montreal, says he wants to be a world champion within two years — in the division St-Pierre currently rules.

    “I’m not interested in fighting him,” St-Pierre said, repeating himself multiple times. “There are a lot of welterweights. I don’t think we have to do it now. In two years, who knows? Maybe I will go to middleweight. Who knows what’s going to happen?”

    Ever the diplomat, St-Pierre abstained from predicting Saturday’s winner — but he said it won’t take long to see who’s in the driver’s seat.

    “After the first round, we will have a good idea of who will impose his dominance,” he said. “After the first round, we will see who will be the winner, who will be able to impose his game on the other guy.”

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Apr 19, 2012
  • Jon Jones, Rashad Evans don’t seem to hate each other as much as advertised

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    Jon Jones (left) and Rashad Evans (right) addressed the media Wednesday at a press event promoting their UFC title fight. (Kevin C. Cox/Zuffa LLC)

    ATLANTA — For two fighters that are supposedly friends turned enemies, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans didn’t show much animosity when sharing a stage Wednesday.

    Maybe they were just being civil. Or maybe the stifled smiles and occasional bursts of laughter hinted at something else — maybe the two don’t really hate each other after all.

    For all intents and purposes, they have to this week. The former training partners’ bitter breakup and ongoing feud is the lifeblood of UFC 145 and one of the most anticipated championship bouts in years. But for all of the hype surrounding the pair’s dislike for one another, Jones and Evans didn’t exude much hatred when faced with the task of an intimate face-to-face meeting at the UFC 145 pre-fight press conference.

    At first, the question-and-answer session carried a solemn tone, with the fighters avoiding eye contact and putting on stoic faces while the other spoke. But by the end, much like a five-round title fight, their defenses had weakened and the two were letting smiles and jokes slip.

    There’s no denying that there are some hard feelings between Jones and Evans. The fighters have had to rehash the story of their feud countless times the past few weeks (and a few more on Wednesday). But after talking about it so much, the two agreed that the raw feelings that were once there have subsided a little bit.

    Jones called the persistent discussion “therapeutic” and said that Saturday’s main event “will be like the last counseling session.”

    Evans echoed his former partner’s sentiment, hinting that their relationship might not be in the tatters that it’s made out to be.

    “We’ve talked about this to death,” he said. “When you talk about something over and over, you lose a little bit of the emotion behind it … we’ve been going back and forth, saying this, saying that. It’s been a long process. We both are just tired.”

    The two even went as far as to acknowledge the possibility of rekindling their friendship after UFC 145. After all, the octagon has seen many fighters put aside their differences to hug it out after a bloody battle.

    “Who knows what God wants for us in the future,” Jones said. “I was watching an Ali documentary, When We Were Kings, and it was so cool to see the guys who fought each other and hated each other were able to talk about the fight and laugh and say, ‘Oh, you got me with that one!’ and ‘You hit me hard with that one.’ So who knows what God wants for us.”

    At one point, Evans was asked how much Jones has learned from him outside the octagon in conducting himself as a man. Evans downplayed the question initially, but couldn’t resist a friendly jab at the end of his answer — much like the ribbing you’d expect from two former partners.

    “I can’t really answer that question — but I do know he wore a suit just like mine,” said Evans with a know-it-all smile.

    With the ice broken and Evans laughing, Jones also let his guard down, possibly conveying his true feelings for his former teammate.

    “To clear that up,” said Jones, “I think Rashad’s swagger is through the roof. Look at the guy, that’s why I didn’t put a coat jacket on (today), I’m not going to try and compete with Rashad in dressing. He’s a wonderful dresser. He just is.”

    The light-hearted affair continued when Jones, 24, compared the 32-year-old Evans to his manager, who is similar in age, but little else.

    “I’m very insulted,” Evans said in mock seriousness. “You cannot physically compare me to to Malki Kawa. Don’t ever do nothing like that again. That’s just disrespectful right there.”

    “My bad,” laughed Jones. “I was out of line.”

    Needless to say, the press conference wasn’t exactly hostile. But that doesn’t mean either fighter will give any less on Saturday. There’s nothing fake about their desire to win. In this rare case, bragging rights might actually mean more to Jones and Evans than the championship belt itself. But just because the two desperately want to beat the other doesn’t mean they hate each other, as we might have been led to believe.

    “Let’s be honest here, it’s a fight,” Evans said. “When people fight, they don’t like each other. It makes it easier for people to root for somebody. You can never divorce the entertainment side of it and you’ve got to understand this is a sport and this is entertainment.

    “People are not buying this because they want to see two guys who like each other and only have nice things to say about each other. They want to see two guys who don’t like each other.”

    Which is why Jones and Evans will enter the octagon as enemies Saturday. There’s no other way to bill the event.

    While the tale of the Jones-Evans split has been told endlessly, the truth has always been a little too murky for anyone to decipher. Jones blames Evans, Evans blames Jones, and we’re left wondering what’s really true.

    What we do know is that the pair had a falling out, leading to a feud — temporary or not — that will be resolved this weekend.

    “Somewhere in the middle lies the truth,” Evans said, “And the truth doesn’t really matter.”

    – Matt Dollinger


  • Published On Apr 18, 2012


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