by Matt Wilkins – MMAWeekly.com (Photos by Lee Whitehead)
NEWCASTLE-UPON TYNE, England – Marshall Zelaznik, president of the
Ultimate Fighting Championship’s U.K. operations chaired the pre-fight press
conference held at Newcastle Metro Radio Arena on Thursday.
Attending the press conference were fighters B.J. Penn, Joe Stevenson,
Marcus Davis, Jess Liaudin and Gabriel Gonzaga. Zelaznik apologized for UFC
president Dana White’s absence, who only having recently arrived in the U.K.,
was suffering from jet lag. Gonzaga’s opponent, Fabricio Werdum, was also absent
as he was busy undertaking his pre-fight medical assessment.
Zelaznik announced that the UFC “has come to terms with Setanta Sports
to exhibit over the next few years all of our U.K. events” and that UFC 80 will
also be aired in over 12 other countries.
Setanta is an international sports broadcaster with operations in Great
Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, the United States, Canada and Australia. It owns
and operates premium sports television channels that are made available on a
subscription basis. Setanta has over three million subscribers.
Setanta stated in its own announcement on Thursday that it had struck a
multi-year deal with the UFC “to make its Setanta Sports 1 channel the
exclusive home for all of the UFC’s big U.K. and U.S. fights, plus all other
UFC programming in Britain and Ireland.”
The deal includes Saturday’s UFC 80 and insures that “Setanta
subscribers in 2008 will be able to see at least four U.K. live events and
after July, all other U.S. live events.” According to Setanta, other U.K.
events are planned for March, June and September of 2008. Also included in the
offerings is the newest UFC television series “Wired.”
The UFC programming on Setanta, including the live events, is available
to Setanta Sports subscribers only, it is not provided on a pay-per-view basis.
Setanta currently states its subscription price at £9.99 per month.
Zelaznik also announced with regards to the scheduled Canadian UFC event
on April 19 in Montreal that White, interim welterweight champion Georges St.
Pierre and reigning welterweight champion Matt Serra would be at the Bell
Centre in Montreal on Feb. 4 to announce the full fight card.
Ticket sales analysis from previous U.K. based UFC events indicate that
26% of ticket sales came from the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne region. Zelaznik stated
that this compelled the UFC to hold UFC 80 in Newcastle, “If the Geordies
(Newcastle natives) were willing to travel to us, then we are willing to travel
to the Geordies.”
Having sold-out the Metro Radio Arena over 10 days ago, more tickets
were released and they are currently sitting on only a few hundred, which are
expected to go prior to Saturday’s event.
Zelaznik continued the press conference by introducing the fighters; first
up was Liaudin, who was quick to lay to rest much publicised animosity between
himself and Davis stating that he had nothing but respect for his opponent.
Liaudin was keen to stress that he wants to be perceived as a respectful
fighter and ambassador in the fight for legalizing MMA in his home country of
France and therefore “smack talk” was not in his character.
Davis for his part appeared to accept this, acknowledging the skills of
his opponent. During his press address Davis appeared confident that he would
have the majority fan support against the British based, French born fighter.
Both Penn and Stevenson remained respectful and said very little with
regards to their forthcoming headline bout; however, both were vocal in
reference to Sean Sherk’s suspension and subsequent stripping of the UFC
lightweight crown. Penn was quick to continue his criticism of Sherk, branding
him a “cheat” and Stevenson aired his frustration with Sherk retaining the belt
for ten months whilst injured only to have it taken away from him for illegal
steroid use after only one defense.
Gonzaga took to the podium for the briefest of moments to state that he
was glad to be back in the U.K. and that he hoped to give the fans and exciting
fight. In his last bout in Britain, Gonzaga knocked out former Pride champion
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic with a stunning kick to the head.
UFC 80 takes place at the Metro Radio Arena on Saturday night.