UFC ready to shift buzz toward stacked Brazilian card


By Dan Gelston

AP Sports Writer

UFC 198’s roughly $50 pay-per-view price tag is a steal compared to the numbers floated for the cost of buying the promotion.

UFC President Dana White has denied rumors the undisputed champion of MMA companies is on the market, though a $4 billion offer could make him and the Fertitta brothers at least consider a sale.

Until that sweet mega offer comes — if it comes — for all the company or even a small stake, White will remain out in front talking bouts not deals as UFC closes in on its milestone UFC 200 event in July.

But even card promotion has seemingly faded into the foreground of late for UFC. UFC has dealt with sale rumors, MMA legalization in New York and Conor McGregor’s psuedo-retirement controversy more than highlighting a stout card Saturday in Curitiba, Brazil.

Brazil’s Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1) defends the UFC heavyweight championship in his home country in the main event against Stipe Miocic (14-2).

Werdum has won five straight fights, highlighted by a win against Mark Hunt for the interim title and then a submission victory against Cain Velasquez in a unification bout.

They’ll fight in front of a sold-out crowd of about 45,000 fans at Arena da Baixada in what was expected to become the second-biggest sporting event of the year in the country behind only the Rio Olympics.

“This is my country. It is a special moment in the history of MMA and UFC,” Werdum said. “It’s the first time in the stadium and first time having a heavyweight title fight in Brazil. My mom is here too, it’s the first time she has come to watch me fight.”

Miocic, an Ohio firefighter, also defeated Hunt in his current stretch of five wins in his last six fights. The bout was scheduled for February until Werdum pulled out with injuries and forced a postponement.

“It’s not going to be fun having 44,985 people against me,” Miocic said. “I also have people supporting me, which is all I need. It’s for the heavyweight title and we always know there is going to be nerves, but you got to have nerves. If you’re not nervous then you aren’t ready. I’m going to be ready, no worries.”

And watch out LeBron. As an added bonus for the Ohio native, Miocic could be the athlete that wins a championship for Cleveland.

While LeBron James and the Cavaliers are still in the hunt for an NBA crown, the city’s long-suffering fans haven’t celebrated a major professional championship since 1964.

“It would be amazing, hometown boy, bringing it back to Cleveland,” he said. “Start to win championships in Cleveland, it’s going to be amazing. Cleveland against the world, that’s how we say it.”

Miocic, who made his UFC debut in 2011, believed that even with Cleveland’s sorry sports history and a decided disadvantage with the crowd against him that he could win the belt in his first major title bout.

“It’s what I signed up for, winning the heavyweight title, which I’m going to do,” he said. “When I get there it’s going to be a great moment. Me and the team, the guys that helped me here, we are all going to cherish it together.”

Werdum-Miocic tops a card that includes Ronaldo Souza vs. Vitor Belfort in a middleweight bout, Maurício “Jacare” Rua vs. Corey Anderson in a light heavyweight fight and Cris “Cyborg” Justino vs. Leslie Smith in a women’s bout.

Jamestown, Ohio native Matt “The Immortal” Brown is scheduled to fight Brazilian Demian Maia in a Welterweight fight. His match and three others will be part of the preliminary fight card, which will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Justino (15-1) has long been considered one of the top fighters in the women’s sport. The Brazilian veteran has a 15-fight winning streak since her debut in 2005, stopping nine consecutive opponents and winning titles in the Strikeforce and Invicta promotions.

Fans have long clamored for Justino to face former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, but Justino had expressed concerns about making the 135-pound limit. Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm last year derailed the discussion.

Justino served a one-year suspension in 2012 for testing positive for steroid use.

The card suffered a blow when former middleweight champion Anderson Silva was forced to withdraw from his fight against Uriah Hall because of gall bladder surgery on Wednesday. He could be sidelined up to six weeks.

By Dan Gelston

AP Sports Writer

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