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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White said Thursday he will stage a card to benefit United States military forces in Afghanistan in the next several months, and said a card in China "is closer than you might think."
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters prior to UFC 112 on Saturday at Ferrari World, White also hinted at renewed contract talks with iconic heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and said the UFC is going to create a Middle Eastern edition of its popular reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter."
White said he's still not sure if he can work out the logistics to put a show on television from Afghanistan, but said the card will be held regardless of whether there is a U.S. broadcast. He said he was heading to meetings with his partners later to work on the planning for Afghanistan.
"This is the Middle East and this is our first show here, and our second will be in Afghanistan in the next, you know, I don't know, two to three months," White said.
He didn't have specifics, such as a date or fights to announce, and said it will be one of the company's biggest logistical challenges. But he noted that the UFC raised more than $6 million for U.S. military members who returned home from combat with traumatic brain injuries and hopes to use the card in Afghanistan to further support the troops.
He also grinned wryly when discussing the possibility of a fight in China. The UFC has made inroads in China since selling a 10 percent stake in the company to Flash Entertainment, a subsidiary of the government of Abu Dhabi. Flash helped the UFC secure a better television deal in China, but White said Thursday that it's also helping to facilitate a live fight card.
"We're working on China right now, a fight card," White said. "We're going to bring a live fight there. It's [going to happen] probably sooner than I can imagine. Fast. It's going to happen really quickly."
Pressed on a more specific timeframe than just "really quickly," he demurred.
"I don't know, but I think it's going to move very quickly," White said. "Listen: For the last, probably, four years, everybody and their mother has tried to buy a piece of the UFC, or get involved and try to become partners. We said no to everybody. There's a major [television] network out there that tried to buy us out. We told them no.
"We became partners with these guys [at Flash] because these guys could actually add value. They're strong partners and they can help us. All these places we want to go, we're going to get there, but they can help us get there a lot faster."
White also said Thursday:
• Emelianenko, the top-ranked fighter not in the UFC, "has become my obsession now. I want it worse than the fans want it." He said he spoke with Emelianenko's management about a UFC contract "more recently than you would think." He was coy when asked about Emelianenko's contract with Strikeforce and CBS, saying only: "I would never interfere with someone else's contract."
• The Middle Eastern version of "The Ultimate Fighter" will be filmed in Abu Dhabi and will be completely separate from the U.S. version that airs on Spike TV. White said it's still being kicked around whether he should spend six weeks in Abu Dhabi to be part of the show.
• He said the worldwide recession prevented a fight card in the Philippines but said the Philippines remains a key market for the UFC. When the economy there improves, he said the UFC will take a fight card there.
• White credited Kimbo Slice, a heavyweight who fought on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," for the strong early ratings of TUF 11. He said Slice introduced fans who hadn't seen the reality series before to the show, and that many of those fans have stuck with it.
• He predicted pay-per-view sales of 150,000 for the World Extreme Cagefighting's PPV debut, on April 24 in Sacramento, Calif. White said he, not WEC general manager Reed Harris, will be promoting that card.
• White said Octagon girls Arianny Celeste and Chandella Powell will work as scheduled on Saturday at UFC 112 and will wear their normal outfits. There had been speculation that because of cultural differences, the ring-card girls would not appear.
• White said the UFC put more speakers in the stadium at Ferrari World than Aerosmith did when it held a concert there. The stadium will be torn down on Monday.
- Fedor Emelianenko