UFC makes long-waited Pittsburgh debut
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts juggernaut in its 18th year of operation, will at long last make its debut in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
And should Consol Energy Center-hosted "UFC Live on Versus 4" prove to be a hit in this market, UFC president Dana White sounds certain that a numbered UFC pay-per-view event will land in Pittsburgh in the near future.
"No doubt about it — and it will be successful," White said. "The people from Pittsburgh who think they like the UFC because they've seen it on TV haven't seen anything yet."
Though the 9 p.m. Versus broadcast won't feature any championship bouts on its four-event main card, the scene at the still-new arena won't be far removed from the atmosphere at a star-studded fight in the UFC's glitzy home of Las Vegas.
Expect longtime ring announcer Bruce Buffer to unleash his trademark "It's time!" catchphrase before introducing fighters. Play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg and color man Joe Rogan will be ringside. Even White, the spirited marketing whiz who helped turn the UFC into an organization televised in 150 countries and 22 languages, will make his first trip to Pittsburgh.
"We're gonna roll out of Pittsburgh, and people are going to be blown away," White said.
It wasn't long ago that the UFC couldn't even blow into Pittsburgh. But regulations for the rough sport were passed in February 2009 by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, and one of the country's fastest growing sports was finally given access to the Keystone State.
Philadelphia hosted the organization's first foray in the state for UFC 101 in Aug. 8, 2009, but Pittsburgh has only been the setting for smaller-scale mixed martial arts promotions until now. As of Tuesday afternoon, White's office said 7,378 tickets have been sold and 2,500 seats remain at Consol, which will not be open at full capacity to allow for the stage configuration.
"For fans, going in and seeing how professional it is, it's an eye opener," said welterweight Rick Story, an injury replacement for Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, who was to face Nate Marquardt in the night's main event before injuring his shoulder at the beginning of the month. "Anytime you can go into a new place and expand our sport, it's great."
White credits basic cable events like "UFC Live" for helping to expand the sport's audience. He hearkens back to the days when the USA Network showcased boxing on weekly with "USA Tuesday Night Fights" from the early 1980's through late '90s
"It was great to see big stars on free TV those days," White said. "We sell 14 pay per views per year, but I think you have to give back to the fan. ... (The UFC) still has a lot of room to grow. We're going to continue what we're doing: put free fights on TV, and bring this to new cities around the country and around the world."
For this week, the organization's focus turns to Pittsburgh, and at least one member of Sunday's card couldn't be happier.
Hollidaysburg native and welterweight Charlie Brenneman said he expects to have "250 to 300" friends and family in the crowd when he takes on Canadian T.J. Grant in a preliminary bout.
"I grew up in PA as a fan of the Steelers, just about two hours from the city, and it is a homecoming for me," said Brenneman, a former standout wrestler at Lock Haven. "And I think MMA and UFC coming to Pennsylvania is just one more step in the evolution of the sport."
Exhibit traces MMA's origins
The UFC may be making its inaugural stop in Pittsburgh in four days, but the region has a far-reaching history in mixed martial arts.
The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Senator John Heinz History Center is opening a new exhibit Thursday commemorating what is touted as America's first sanctioned mixed martial arts bout.
Before the sport became illegal in the state, Western Pennsylvania natives David Jones and Mike Murray competed in the "Battle of the Tough Guys" on March 19, 1980, at the Holiday Inn in New Kensington. Jones won with a technical knockout in the bout promoted by Bill Viola, a local karate instructor.
"In a way, it addressed the question, who would win, a boxer or a wrestler, a martial artist or a bar bouncer?" Viola said in a release. "It caught the public's imagination and was more popular than we'd ever imagined."
The exhibit will contain posters, fight gear and photos among other memorabilia from the event, beginning as a temporary display in the front of the history museum before moving to the sports museum.