UFC President Dana White has every reason to be happy with the performances that the fighters on the card for UFC 116 put on Saturday night; many are already calling the card the best of 2010 and it was certainly the best UFC offering in recent memory. Likely to be one of their all-time best-selling cards as well, it is no wonder why White told MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani that UFC 116 is the highlight of his career so far.
“This is literally the best night of my career, ever,” White said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this way about fights–it was a great night. Every fight I thought was dynamite. These guys came out and gave 110 percent. And again, I always feel like a goof when I say this about grown men but I’m proud of all these guys tonight. They delivered and it was a great night for me.”
The main event featured heavyweight behemoths Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin squaring off to unify the Interim and true UFC Heavyweight Championships. The fight was a thrilling affair that saw Lesnar absorb a ridiculous amount of punishment delivered by Carwin’s gorilla-sized fists only to roar back in the second round and secure a fight-ending arm triangle choke. White spoke to Helwani about that fight and why he is impressed with Lesnar’s performance.
“I couldn’t believe it and sometimes in the press conference you guys are asking questions and I actually want to ask a question and say something but I hold back and don’t do it,” said White. “What he did tonight, he had the mount and to jump off and go for that submission was dangerous. That was a very risky move. You saw it earlier on in the Chris Lytle fight when Matt Brown had that submission and had it forever and it looked like he was gonna get it but didn’t. That’s a dangerous submission against a guy like Shane Carwin, he went for it and he pulled it off. You’ve really got to give him the credit and respect for doing it.”
Much has been made, and rightly so, of the often-poor refereeing and judging that takes place in mixed martial arts. White has openly criticized both and told Helwani that he was holding his breath over both at UFC 116.
“I just get so nervous with the reffing and judging,” said White. “Coming out of that Akiyama-Leben fight I wanted to see what the judges’ scorecards said, I wanted to see who they had wining that fight. That was a tough one to score, that fight could’ve gone either way and possibly even for Akiyama. I think he did a lot of damage and had Leben hurt many times–and to hurt Chris Leben is no easy task. I think even in losing tonight Akiyama gained a lot of respect.”
White also commented on referee Josh Rosenthal’s impressive officiating of the Lesnar-Carwin bout that many refs would likely have stopped in the first round.
“I saw him in there and listen, I have my moments with all the refs–you know how I am with those guys,” said White. “He did a great job tonight and I think that the fight was close to being stopped. There could’ve been a couple of guys that might’ve jumped in–but like Brock said in the press conference, he kept moving and stayed busy and looked like he wasn’t hurt or out of it and I think Josh did a great job.”
Helwani questioned White whether Lesnar’s critics, who will likely point to that brutal beating he took in the first round as proof that Lesnar is overrated, would be correct in making that assumption. Unsurprisingly, White wholeheartedly disagrees.
“No, he’s tougher than we thought he was,” said White when asked if the fight was proof that Lesnar is not as tough as he was made out to be. “He’s definitely tougher than we thought he was but the guy continues to grow as a mixed martial artist. He doesn’t have the greatest standup you’ll ever see, he pulled off his first submission tonight, he’s a wrestler who’s evolving and learning all these things. He’s in great shape, they said he had an awesome camp, he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in, you know he’s healed up 100 percent from his illness that he had; now it’s a matter of growing. Every fight that he has and every training camp that he has he’s gonna learn more and more. If you look at how he lost by submission to Frank Mir in that first fight and how he dominated Mir in the second fight when Mir was going for the same submissions, it’s pretty incredible.”
UFC 116 was packed with interesting and compelling story lines and TUF season 1 alums Stephan Bonnar and Chris Leben were at the center of two such compelling stories. Both men have had some serious low points in their career and have had the future of their careers called in to question more than once. Saturday night they both proved that they still have what it takes to compete and that they still have the fire and talent needed to put on entertaining and impressive performances. White spoke with Helwani about what it means for both men to have won in the fashion that they did.
“Those two have been through a lot and, again, I don’t like to say I’m proud of grown men but I’m proud of those two tonight,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot of stuff and I was actually starting to wonder myself if Stephan still had the desire and fire to fight and he looked tonight like he looked in the finale of season one of The Ultimate Fighter–he just kept coming forward, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy run more times in a fight than I did tonight in that fight. It was a dogfight, it was an absolute war and a fun fight to watch.”
White confirmed during the post-fight presser that top heavyweight contender Cain Velasquez will indeed be the next man to challenge Brock Lesnar but he told Helwani that he is not sure when the bout will happen and that he needs to talk to Lesnar, who has plans on putting to use his new combine on his farm, before he can plan the fight.
“I need to talk to Brock about it,” said White. “I’m a big believer in ‘Let’s get these guys right back in as soon as we possibly can.’ Farming sounds fun but that’s not what really pays the bills.”