by Ivan Trembow and Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The upcoming UFC Welterweight Title bout between Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre was announced again on Monday’s edition of the ESPNews program “The Hot List,” with in-studio appearances by Hughes, St. Pierre, and UFC president Dana White.
There have been several occasions in the past when UFC fighters have appeared on The Hot List, which is the afternoon block of programming that airs on ESPN’s all-news sister network from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM Pacific Time (3:00 PM to 6:00 PM Eastern Time). However, this time the UFC was given two segments on the show, whereas the previous UFC appearances on the show had each been limited to one segment.
While The Hot List averages approximately one-third as many viewers as the average repeat airing of UFC Unleashed on Spike TV, the difference is that the people who are watching ESPNews are likely to be mainstream sports fans who might become MMA fans once they are exposed to the sport.
Therefore, there can be no doubt that Monday’s UFC appearance on The Hot List was good for the sport. What it wasn’t, however, was breaking news. It was stated multiple times on the UFC 58 broadcast on March 4th that the winner of the St. Pierre vs. BJ Penn fight would be taking on Hughes for the UFC Welterweight Title later this year.
On top of that, the UFC officially announced the Hughes vs. St. Pierre fight at a press conference in Canada on April 7th, which was covered by MMAWeekly at the time (see story link below). When the Hughes vs. St. Pierre fight was officially announced at a press conference in Toronto on April 7th, St. Pierre said, “Now it’s official. Now it’s for real. It’s my dream come true! It’s all about respect, and I finally have it… YES, FINALLY!” The official confirmation of the fight’s September 23rd date (at UFC 63) was the only new thing in this additional announcement.
While the announcement of Hughes vs. St. Pierre was not breaking news, the important thing is that ESPNews apparently believed that it was breaking news. As they were cutting to a commercial break right before Dana White’s appearance, Hot List host Dari Nowkhah said, “The owner of the UFC will be here next to break news on The Hot List.” Nowkhah later said, “This was just announced today, right here on The Hot List! That’s why you watch us, because we bring you the latest.”
Again, whether it was breaking news or not, ESPNews clearly believed that it was breaking news, and hyped the segments accordingly. The segment from The Hot List was not repeated or acknowledged on ESPNews (or ESPN, for that matter) for the rest of the day, but it is believed to be only a matter of time before UFC highlights are part of SportsCenter just like any other sport. This notion is supported by the fact that ESPN anchor Dan Patrick recently said on his ESPN radio show that SportsCenter should include UFC highlights and that there’s no valid reason to exclude UFC highlights.
There were two UFC-related segments on The Hot List on Monday, one with Hughes and St. Pierre; and the other with White. Since the first time they fought in October 2004, St. Pierre has gone on to defeat top names such as Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, and of course BJ Penn, who was the last person to defeat Hughes. In the same time period, Hughes has defeated Frank Trigg, Joe Riggs, and most recently Royce Gracie at UFC 60.
In the segment with Hughes and St. Pierre, they both came across as stars. Hughes and St. Pierre both talked about their preparation for the fight and how much training goes into each fight. Hughes was his naturally stoic self, never waning from his demeanor of being the best fighter in the world, which he could very well be. When asked about the differences between the rematch and the original match, Hughes said, “I think Georges has got a lot better since then. I think I’ve got a lot better since then, so it’s going to be a whole different fight, as far as on our feet, on the ground… should be pretty exciting wherever the fight’s at.”
When asked the same question, St. Pierre said, “When I fought Matt Hughes the first time, I wasn’t ready mentally. It was my third fight in the UFC, and I was not ready for a championship bout… and Matt Hughes was my idol, and I gave him too much respect. So, right now, I’m a totally different fighter. I’ve improved so much physically and especially mentally, and I’m going to fight him like I fight everybody else.”
Hughes was asked if he “feels guilty” for “beating Royce Gracie good,” which was a bit of an odd question, and Hughes’ calm reply was that there was nothing to feel guilty about because he just went out there, did his job, and fought as hard as he could.
St. Pierre also talked briefly about his experience as one of the advisors/coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 4, and he said that he learned just as much as any of the fighters in the house during the filming.
When host Dari Nowkhah asked Hughes and St. Pierre for their best “out-of-the-ring confrontation stories,” Hughes and St. Pierre both replied that there are no such stories to tell because they both avoid putting themselves into those kinds of situations. Hughes and St. Pierre came off particularly well in their responses to this question.
Hughes said that he’s not out at bars in the latenight hours when such a confrontation would be more likely to take place, and if a fan ever did approach him trying to pick a fight, he would just walk away. St. Pierre said that he would also just walk away and added, “It’s different in the ring, but outside of the ring, I am a gentleman.” As a result of this, the host of the show went from not really knowing what to make of the UFC at the beginning of the segment to calling Hughes and St. Pierre “a couple of nice guys” at the end of the segment.
The interview with Dana White also came off well, if you can overlook gross factual errors being repeated on national television. The oft-repeated claim that Zuffa added all of the major regulation and sanctioning to the UFC was repeated once again on The Hot List, as White said that the UFC “wasn’t sanctioned by any of the major athletic commissions” before Zuffa bought it. This is not a matter for debate. It’s just flat-out factually incorrect, as are any claims in newspaper articles that the “previous owners ran from regulation.”
In reality, the previous owners of the UFC tried successfully to get the UFC sanctioned in New Jersey, and then tried unsuccessfully to get the UFC sanctioned in Nevada shortly before selling the company to Zuffa. Before Zuffa ever bought the UFC, it was sanctioned and regulated by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which was widely regarded as the second most important sanctioning body in the country.
The “old UFC” also ran fully sanctioned UFC events in states such as Iowa, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but it was New Jersey that was regarded as having the second-biggest sanctioning body (behind only Nevada’s) in terms of importance and prestige.
Dana White also said on The Hot List, “When we first bought the sport, not only was it not in any of the major venues here in the United States, but it also wasn’t on pay-per-view. We were on DirecTV, but we weren’t on any of the cable pay-per-view systems.” White’s statement about the PPV situation is absolutely correct. His statement about major venues is once again factually incorrect, unless the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City is not considered a “major venue.”
These factually incorrect statements would not have been noticeable to someone who isn’t familiar with the actual history of MMA (including the host of The Hot List), and again, White came off well in the parts of the interview that were not about the aforementioned subjects.
In another part of the interview, White talked about The Ultimate Fighter. He said that the concept for the first three seasons of TUF was to find the best up-and-coming mixed martial artists and put them all in the same house, but the concept for the fourth season was to give second chances to a lot of former UFC stars.
When asked about Senator John McCain, who led a campaign to ban the sport of mixed martial arts in the mid-90s, Dana White said that McCain helped the sport to clean itself up, and added that all combat sports should always be sanctioned by an athletic commission because the purpose of the athletic commissions is to protect the fighters. White concluded his answer to the McCain question by saying, “We salute Senator John McCain.”
When asked specifically about the Hughes vs. St. Pierre fight, White talked about how Hughes beat St. Pierre with an armbar submission with only a second left in the first round when they fought for the first time. The host asked White to explain what an armbar is, and when White did so, the host responded by saying, “Woah! These are some tough guys!”
White said that Hughes and St. Pierre have both been crushing all of the fighters who have been put in their path. White added that St. Pierre is one of the best athletes today in any sport, and that Hughes is the most dominant welterweight in the history of the UFC.
Tickets for UFC 63 in Anaheim, California will be going on sale on August 12th.