UFC Mexico City ended in chaos one month ago, but Dana White is firm in his stance that one incident does not define the relationship between the UFC and Mexico.
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UFC Boston’s co-main event closed one chapter of that relationship. Yair Rodriguez defeated Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision in a three-round battle that earned each featherweight fighter an extra $50,000.
The two fighters embraced at the end of the battle, signifying the end of the bad blood that emerged following the anticlimactic ending to their first meeting at UFC Mexico City. Rodriguez’s eye poke rendered Stephens unable to continue after just 15 seconds of fighting. Stephens then had to navigate his way out of the Mexico City Arena while dodging projectiles from the audience that was set off by the official decision of a no-contest.
Despite the chaotic ending, however, White is adamant that the UFC’s relationship with Mexican fans is stable, and the promotion will continue its push into the market.
“I don’t think [the UFC Mexico City incident is] gonna shake our fans at all,” White said in the post-fight press conference following UFC Boston. “Nobody got hurt, it wasn’t that big of a deal, these things happen sometimes.”
White said that the reaction of the fans can be chalked up to a cultural difference and cited an anecdote in his reasoning.
“Lorenzo Fertitta and I went to a fight in Tijuana, Mexico, like 10 years ago, 15 years ago, maybe 20 years ago. I don’t even know, maybe longer than that,” White said. “I don’t remember what it was, but it was in a bull ring. It was like an HBO fight, and it was between a Mexican and an American. And the Mexican fighter won the fight and everybody started throwing their beer.
“I got soaked, Lorenzo was soaked, everybody sitting down there, beers are flying into the ring, and their guy won. So, I think it’s a cultural thing. I think they like to throw beer around over there, cause I’ve had a couple of experiences with it.”
On top of his indifference on the issue, White severing the working relationship with the Mexican market would leave him and the UFC with a significant sunk cost in the form of the UFC Performance Institute the promotion is in the process of opening.
When asked, White reaffirmed that progress is being made toward eventually breaking ground in Mexico.
“We have the space, and we’re moving forward,” White said. “We’re gonna open that PI up, and as soon as that’s done I’m gonna start looking for a place in Puerto Rico.”
A new Mexican star?
Another concern in the expansion of the Mexican market is the hole left by star Cain Velasquez. The former UFC heavyweight champion announced his retirement from MMA in favor of a career in professional wrestling earlier this month, a decision that White was happy to oblige with when WWE reached out to him.
“I’m happy for him. Cain’s had some rough injuries, you know, that happened. The guy’s been a professional athlete for a long time, collegiate athlete. He’s a super nice guy,” White said. “When it looks like the end of your career, and you’re looking at what to do next, it’s always hard for these guys to figure out what’s next. Where do I fit? What do I do?
“I was always like, ‘How’s Cain gonna wrestle? He’s having problems with his body in MMA.’ And then I saw him doing the Luba Libre (sic) — whatever they call it — wrestling with the mask on, and I was like, ‘God damn, he’s pretty good. That’s cool.'”
At UFC Boston, Rodriguez made his case for assuming the role of Mexico’s biggest star. Rodriguez extended his winning streak to two, but both of his last two fights have earned Fight of the Night honors, and his last-second upward elbow knockout of Chan Sung Jung earned Knockout of the Year honors from multiple outlets.
“El Pantera” entered his bout with #8 Stephens as the seventh-ranked featherweight, and after picking up the unanimous decision win, Rodriguez put himself in position for a shot at the upper echelon at 145 pounds.
Champion Max Holloway is set to defend his belt against Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 245, #2 Brian Ortega is scheduled to face #6 Jung at UFC Busan and #5 Zabit Magomedsharipv is expected to fight #11 Calvin Kattar at UFC Moscow.
With so many factors playing into the decision of who is next in line for the title, White was noncommittal on evaluating Rodriguez’s position as a title challenger.
“I don’t know,” White said. “I have to think about that.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.