SAN JOSE, Calif. – There is no question that the No. 1 city for mixed martial arts in the United States is Las Vegas, the home of the UFC.
But just as unquestionably, San Jose would be No. 2. The HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks, still holds the record for the largest paid attendance for a show in the U.S. – 17,465 on March 10, 2006, for the Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie fight. It was the site of the biggest women's fight in history – Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos vs. Gina Carano on August 15, 2009, which drew 13,976 fans and set Showtime's all-time ratings record for any MMA fight, which has since been broken.
It was the building where Fedor Emelianenko's nearly 10-year winning streak was ended by Fabricio Werdum's triangle armbar on June 26, 2010.
While San Jose has hosted those memorable moments and many more, it has never had was a live UFC event. That ends on Saturday night with UFC 139. The card doesn't boast one of the year's monster pay-per-view matches, but it does feature one of the year's deepest cards, marketed around six former major promotion champions battling in the top three matches.
Dan Henderson, the former two-division PRIDE champion and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, weighed in at 203 pounds for his main event against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. The former UFC light heavyweight king weighed in at 205.
The winner of the five-round main event would be in line for a light heavyweight title shot down the line, and if Henderson wins, possibly a middleweight title shot. That was promised to Henderson in 2009, but when it wasn't delivered he left the UFC for Strikeforce.
"They bought the promotion to get me back," joked the 41-year-old Henderson earlier in the week.
"I feel great, I'm very happy to be back in the UFC," Henderson said.
Henderson was the second-oldest major champion in the sport's history when he vacated the Strikeforce belt earlier this year. He returns to the UFC with his stock at an all-time high after he became the first fighter ever to knock out Emelianenko in competition on July 30.
He came close to facing Rua twice before when both were PRIDE stars. The first time was in a Japanese 205-pound tournament in 2005. Henderson lost to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the fight before he would have faced Rua, who made his name in the sport by winning the loaded tournament. The second time was in 2007, when Henderson ended the five-and-a-half year PRIDE title reign of Wanderlei Silva, Rua's teammate.
Silva's title reign was the reason why Rua, often thought of as the best light heavyweight in the sport at the time, had never challenged for the title. He was slated for the first shot at Henderson's belt, but UFC purchased PRIDE and plans changed.
The co-main event features the UFC debut of 39-year-old Cung Le, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion who has fought his entire career based out of San Jose. Le will face Wanderlei Silva, whose PRIDE title reign is the longest of any major champion in the sport's history.
Both men weighed in at 185 pounds, with Silva the more popular of the two at weigh-ins.
Also on tap is a bantamweight title-elimination bout for the next crack at champion Dominick Cruz. Urijah Faber, the former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion, faces Brain Bowles, the former WEC bantamweight champion.
The battle features two contrasting personalities, with Faber being one of the sport's most outgoing fighters and the hard-hitting Bowles leading a quieter life. Both fighters checked in at 136 pounds.
There were a couple of issues early in the weigh-in. Shamar Bailey, who faces Danny Castillo in the first fight on the UFC Facebook page, came in two pounds heavy for a lightweight fight at 158 pounds. Nick Pace, in the biggest fight of his career against former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Angel Torres, checked in at 141 pounds, missing by five. He had contacted commission officials earlier to let them know he was unable to make weight, and was fined 20 percent of his purse. Torres weighed in at 137, missing by one pound.
After Torres became the third of the first six fighters on the scale to miss weight, weigh-in emcee Joe Rogan questioned the scale's accuracy, noting that fighters were making weight on the scale backstage and missing it before the public. But no other fighter missed weight on the public scale.
There were no tense moments during the weigh-ins, but instead, more comedy than usual. Castillo showed up wearing a tuxedo. Tom Lawlor, a former pro wrestler who is known for dressing up in unique outfits at weigh-ins, came in looking like a Mexican rapper and held up his hand in an "iron claw," a 1980s wrestling reference that only a few in the crowd seemed to understand.
Opening the pay-per-view portion of the show will be Kyle Kingsbury, a protege of the infamous Victor Conte, and Stephan Bonnar. Kingsbury and Bonnar both showed ripped abdominals and did dueling bodybuilding poses at the weigh-in.
Locally based star Josh Koscheck did a question-and-answer session before the weigh-ins, covering a number of subjects including how much longer he'd like to fight, and he emphatically stated that he would never fight teammate Jon Fitch.
"You've got to understand, we're [the American Kickboxing Academy team], not like Greg Jackson's gym where guys come in for a couple of days and leave," he said, noting that he had just finished sparring with Fitch earlier that day and had bruises on his face. "Me and Jon Fitch have been training together for eight years. We fight every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you want to see us fight, come to the gym, and not only that, you can watch it for free rather than pay $55 on pay-per-view. There's no chance, not even for the title. It's not worth it to me. I'd rather step away from the sport than fight Jon Fitch, how's that?"
While Koscheck favors Georges St. Pierre in the Feb. 4 welterweight title fight with Nick Diaz, he is rooting for the latter. Koscheck faces Carlos Condit on the same card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, and if he beats Condit and Diaz wins, he could be in line for the next title shot. But after losing twice to St. Pierre, it's unlikely that a third fight would be made if the Canadian won.
"To be honest, I like the Diaz kid, I think he brings something similar to what I bring to the table," Koscheck said. "He's not afraid to say what's on his mind. St. Pierre is a strategist. St. Pierre will come in with a game plan of the safest way to win. I'd love to see Diaz win so when I beat Condit I can challenge him. He talks really good and I talk really good."
Koscheck noted he begged UFC president Dana White to be on Saturday's show and was ready to move up to 185 and face Wanderlei Silva, but it didn't materialize.
"I was begging Dana White to let me take the [Matt] Hughes fight [on Sept. 24 in Denver, which Koscheck won] and to let me fight in San Jose. I really tried to get the fight with Wanderlei Silva, but it didn't work my way. Maybe next time they come here, I'd love to have a grudge match with Chris Leben [who he faced in 2005 in one of the highest-rated fights in the history of The Ultimate Fighter reality show]. I've been around for a long time. I want to take big fights, fights I can build, fights I can get excited about training for. I'm 34, and have two or three years left. I don't want to be 40 and getting my butt kicked by someone who has been training in this sport since they were young and is 20 years old."
Danny Castillo (155) vs. Shamar Bailey (158)
Seth Baczynski (171) vs. Matt Brown (171)
Nick Pace (141) vs. Miguel Angel Torres (137)*
Rafael dos Anjos (155.5) vs. Gleison Tibau (155)
Tom Lawlor (185) vs. Chris Weidman (185.5)
Alex Soto (135) vs. Michael McDonald (136)
Ryan Bader (205) vs. Jason Brilz (204)
Kyle Kingsbury (205) vs. Stephan Bonnar (205)
Rick Story (170.5) vs. Martin Kampmann (170.5)
Urijah Faber (136) vs. Brian Bowles (136)
Cung Le (185) vs. Wanderlei Silva (185)
Dan Henderson (203) vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (205)
*Torres later made weight (136) on a second attempt
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- Wanderlei Silva
- Josh Koscheck
- Dan Henderson
- Miguel Angel Torres