LAS VEGAS -- In the bowels of the MGM Grand Arena, in a small room containing just a couch, a love seat and a TV mounted on the wall, UFC president Dana White sat in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and socks. It was Saturday night, hours before UFC 91. Outside the room, thousands of fans were pouring in from the Strip. The undercard was already under way. The pay-per-view broadcast would go live at 7 p.m., but at 5:40, White was still in his socks. He sat like a glassblower, watching his carefully crafted creation take shape.
AP Photo/Eric Jamison
Brock Lesnar delivers a punch to Randy Couture during their heavyweight title bout at UFC 91.
"Tonight's big," he said while watching Mark Bocek overpower Alvin Robinson on the in-house live feed.
"This redhead used to run around and beat on me when he was 16!" White said of Bocek with a laugh, staring at the TV from his couch. "He used to train us in jujitsu. Now look at him."
In the hours before the tangle, White seemed so confident in the power of the blockbuster card that he was able to sit back and laugh. After all, the event was headlined by a world heavyweight title bout between fan favorite Randy Couture and former WWE champion Brock Lesnar. With nothing to worry about, White took an extra moment to make fun of his boss.
"Watch this." He pulled up a video link on his laptop and started laughing even before it began to play. The clip was from the previous day, when UFC owner and gazillionaire casino maverick Lorenzo Fertitta tripped while walking up the steps to the stage at the weigh-in with a huge crowd watching. White watched it a few times and laughed hysterically at a slow motion version.
"Ahh, I've so been there," White said. "I've done it too. Mine was worse, but this is hysterical. Look, he catches the long toe of those shoes right there. Ah-ha! But he gets a hand down and saves it. Amazing!"
This is quintessential White. It's mere hours before a title fight and he's doing what he does best -- being himself. When the conversation came back around to Couture versus Lesnar, he refused to let a reporter's cynicism change his mood.
Does music make the fighter? You be the judge. Here is a list of the entrance music for each bout at UFC 91.
• Brock Lesnar ("Enter Sandman" by Metallica) TKO over Randy Couture ("Back In The Saddle" by Aerosmith)
• Kenny Florian (Pray by Jay-Z) defeated Joe Stevenson ("Wanksta" by 50 Cent)
• Dustin Hazelett ("Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival) defeated Tamdan McCrory ("Puritania" by Dimmu Borgir)
• Gabriel Gonzaga ("Mother" by Danzig) beat Josh Hendricks ("Let It Rock" by Kevin Rudolf and Lil Wayne)
• Demian Maia ("Numb/Encore" by Jay-Z and Linkin Park) defeated Nate Quarry ("Shut 'em Down" by Public Enemy)
• Aaron Riley ("Ready Steady Go" by Paul Oakenfold) defeats Jorge Gurgel ("Days of Revenge" by Ramallah) by unanimous decision
• Jeremy Stephens ("Concrete Jungle" by Black Label Society) KO over Rafael dos Anjos ("It's A Fight" by Three 6 Mafia)
• Mark Bocek ("Homecoming" by Kanye West) submission over Alvin Robinson ("Lord Give Me A Sign" by DMX)
• Matt Brown ("Immortal" by Adema) submission over Ryan Thomas ("Remember the Name" by Fort Minor)
-- Mary Buckheit
"C'mon Dana, I love Randy, but he's almost fifty!" said the reporter. "And Lesnar's just an unproven wrestler with bowling balls for fists. Why is it really an important fight?"
"It has what everybody wants," White answered definitively. "It has just enough to make everybody wonder. First you think, 'Randy's too old, and he's been out for 15 months,' but you want him to win. Everybody wants him to win. Then you think, 'Lesnar is just too big.'"
He continued, eyes widening: "It's like, no way, no shot, too old, too big. And then you remember that Lesnar is so inexperienced it's become a joke and he's facing the Hall of Famer who beat Tim Sylvia and Gabe Gonzaga when everybody was saying then that he was too old to do it. Now you're back to thinking it could go either way."
At this point, White was jumping up and down in his socks, like a fighter in a corner ready for the next round. His fists were clenched, arms bent at the elbows like he's about to touch gloves.
The excitement had clenched hold of him.
"There are just enough questions to keep everybody guessing," White continued. "Just enough questions about both of these guys to keep everybody talking and everybody tuning in."
White triumphantly raised his hands in the air and looked to the ceiling, saying, "That's it. This is it. I love it!"
White is right, everybody was waiting for this fight with baited breath. He did his job.
In a few hours, White and everybody else in the sold-out arena watched MMA's living legend, Couture, make his way to the Octagon again. The lights dropped and he emerged to Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle." Some 15,000 spectators rose to their feet and the first cheers broke out. "Rand-y Rand-y Rand-y." It was a cry heard all night long -- before, during and even after Couture took a beating.
When Lesnar came out, it was a different story. His shoulders and biceps looked like a mountain range with a flat top. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blared. Fans booed emphatically. The day before, Couture weighed in at 220 pounds. Later that evening, Lesnar said he stepped on a scale and tipped 276. No one fills the Octagon quite like Brock Lesnar. He's absolutely massive.
Somehow, the dwarfed Couture still seemed classic and immortal. To his credit, he survived the first round and even managed to cut Lesnar's right eye with a blow that ignited the crowd.
"He's bleeding! Lesnar's bleeding," one fan screamed.
It was the blood of false hope.
No one had real reason to believe Couture could beat Lesnar, not even for a second. But no one stopped cheering.
Finally, Lesnar knocked Couture to the ground and hammered him with a prolonged flurry of blows for the victory. Just as most everyone suspected. Everybody knew that, at the end of the day, a package delivered to Couture's front porch by Lesnar's hands would be more than he could stand.
The hero was dethroned. Goliath triumphed. So why didn't it feel like a disappointment? In the words of Dana White, UFC 91 had just enough to keep everybody wondering, which is really all it had to do to satisfy the fans.
Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.