UFC UK Boss Marshall Zelaznik has big plans. Photo via Sports Pro Media
UFC UK President Marshall Zelaznik denies the obvious talking to ESPN UK:
"It would be a disappointment for the likes of Dan and Mike if they lost, but as a company we're constantly looking for the best fighters and the best match-ups," Zelaznik told ESPN.
"So even though it'd be great from a British perspective for their fighters to be truly successful, I think everybody wants to see the best fighters. As a company, we're not looking at UFC 120 and getting disappointed if the British guys lose.
"The British fighters are taking some abuse these days so it's going to be interesting to see how things go in London. For the UK fan, this event is extremely important to see where UK fighters stand against the world's top talent."
411 Mania argues that Zelaznik is whistling past the graveyard:
For the UFC, it's important these two fighters win, and do so in an exciting manner. Zuffa's expansion into Europe hinges upon being able to showcase local fighters the hometown crowds will get behind and pay to watch. The crowds might pay to see guys like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, but nothing draws better than the hometown favorites. In the past three and a half years, the UFC has put on 6 cards in Great Britain; UFC 70, UFC 75, UFC 80, UFC 89, UFC 95, and UFC 105. Of all those cards, the only one that didn't feature either Dan Hardy or Michael Bisping was UFC 80, which was headlined by a Lightweight Championship bout between BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson.
The fact is that using English fighters on these cards makes sense for the UFC. If Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy aren't suitable due to their win/loss records to headline these cards, the UFC finds themselves in a difficult situation. The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Welterweight winner James Wilks fell to Matt Brown in his second UFC bout, which ruined any luster his name might have had on a marquee. The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Lightweight winner Ross Pearson enjoyed a nice UFC run of three victories until being stopped by Cole Miller. The only other fighter with the name value to draw both hometown fans and American fans is John Hathaway, but he's not even a co-headliner yet at this point in his young career.
Zelaznik has made no secret of his hopes to radically expand the UFC's UK schedule by adding "4 to 6 UK Fight Nights" to the 2011 calendar. The expected record setting gate and attendance figures for UFC 120 will help him make his case. Here's Zelaznik discussing those goals recently with ESPN UK:
"We've got interest from our British fans, there's interest from broadcasters in England, but the business side needs plenty of pieces to make the puzzle. There are factors outside the UK that we need to help drive it.
"We'll definitely have at least one event in England next year - that's a given. But I'm very, very optimistic, and Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] are very focused on trying to make this a reality. With our relationship with TV partners around the world, we're optimistic, but you just have to get things in place before you move forward with it.
Dramatically upping the number of UFC events in the UK isn't the end of Zelaznik's ambitions either, again per ESPN UK:
What would be your dream venue for a UFC event?
"The Coliseum in Rome. That'd be cool. I don't think we could actually use the Coliseum itself, but there's a space adjacent to it where you could build a temporary outdoor arena like we did in Abu Dhabi. That's been mentioned to us as we look into options in Italy, I think that'd be cool."
Zelaznik does not have an easy gig. Not only is he dependent on the continued U.S. success of the UFC and the continued commitment of Zuffa brass to continue investing in European expansion, he's also -- in the short term at least -- at the mercy of the notoriously limited UK fighter pool. Both Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy are skilled fighters and dangerous men, but neither is likely to hold a UFC title anytime soon. The two Brits will certainly have their work cut out for them at UFC 120 against Yoshihiro Akiyama and Carlos Condit respectively.