There was little bombast from Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White in today's pre-fight press conference leading up to Saturday night's UFC 118 event at TD Garden.
White left it to his fighters, in particular James "Lights Out" Toney, to do much of the talking. Toney, in fact, seemed to delight in White's return to his native Boston, chiming in during one of White's remarks, "Dana, you're back, baby! You're back in Boston!"
A native of Manchester, Conn., who grew up in Ware, Mass., and later escaped the mean streets of South Boston for Las Vegas, where he went on to greater fame and fortune as UFC president, White expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the people of Massachusetts and the City of Boston for allowing him to stage the state's first mixed martial arts event.
"It's been a long time coming," White said, standing at the dais at Faneuil Hall's Great Hall, wearing a blue Red Sox t-shirt. "I appreciate all the support not only this week but all year from the City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
White was more than eager to be on hand to help promote Saturday's card, which will be headlined by the lightweight title bout between current UFC champion Frankie Edgar (12-1) and No. 1 contender B.J. Penn (15-6-1), Toney's MMA debut against UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture (18-10), and local favorite Kenny Florian (13-4) against undefeated lightweight Gray Maynard (10-0) for the right to take a title shot vs. the winner of the Edgar-Penn title bout.
"I wanted to bring a good one," White said of the UFC 118 fight card. "The cool thing with Toney coming here is that Boston is a big fight town and it's been huge here for years. I remember when he fought Roy Jones Jr., I went to the press conference and that was when regular people couldn't go to press conferences."
White recalled with a laugh as he and a friend, Jimmy Gifford, posed as correspondents from the South Boston Tribune, which published freelance contributions.
"We wrote an article on the Toney-Jones fight," White said.
Wednesday, there was no need for White to sneak into Faneuil Hall.
"It's been awesome," White said, when asked about bringing a UFC event to Boston. "To come here to the Great Hall to hold our press conference is great. I've been running around here eating good food for about two days. I went over to Southie to a place that does great steak tips, right here at Faneuil Hall I'm going over to the chowder place that does it in a bread bowl, then I'm going over to Bova's and to Mike's Pastries, I'm hitting it all.
"The over-under is 15 pounds when I leave here."
Couture, who is a co-star in the action blockbuster "The Expendables" along with Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, said he is looking to transition from a career in MMA to Hollywood.
"At some point there's going to be a rub, and I'm going to have to make a decision between a fight and a movie," said Couture, a 47-year-old UFC Hall of Famer. "To be honest, if the right movies like "The Expendables" keep coming along, then the decision is going to be pretty easy."
Couture has been preparing himself for that eventuality.
"I've been studying, I've got an acting coach, and I've been taking classes, trying to learn," he said. "It's about putting a lot of tools in the toolbelt. It's just like fighting. Amazingly, there's a lot of similarities, focus and being coachable and all those things. I'm hopeful, but we'll see."
Asked what it was like, as a real-life tough guy, to be surrounded on a movie set with tough-guy actors, Couture said, "They were all very, very nice. A lot of them, many were fight fans. I think all of us had such a respect for Stallone, who set the pace and kind of pulled us all together. We all got along great and we had a lot of fun."
White said the Couture-Toney fight might have never come off where it not for Toney's dogged persistance.
"He'd literally fly from state to state, every state I'd be in, looking to talk to me," White said. "My assistants would tell me that 'James Toney is here looking for you, he's calling you out.' He called me a punk, and this and that, all these names saying that I used to get knocked out in Boston all the time. So the way I look at it, is he picked a fight and now he's going to get one."
Asked if Toney specifically requested Couture as his opponent in his MMA debut, White said, "Randy called me. Randy called me to say, 'Hey, if this Toney thing happens, I want it,' and I was like, 'All right, perfect. I like it.'
"Listen, when Toney came to my office, he was enormous and out of shape and everything else," White recalled. "I'm like, 'He's just going to come in here and do this thing for a quick payday.' But he trained hard. He's a real guy. Like I said, he has more knockouts (44) than Randy Couture has fights (28). He's a real guy, a tough guy, a mean and nasty guy, so anything can happen in a fight.
But White has not been shy about telling anyone who will listen what he expects of Couture.
"I expect a double-leg [takedown], against the fence, and Toney smashed," White said, smiling. "That's what I'm expecting. In no way shape or form am I out here saying, 'Let me tell you what, people, buy this [pay-per-view] thing because it's going to be a war, a battle of the ages.' No, I'm expecting a double leg. But I'm not delusional to think that Toney couldn't go out there and land one quick shot. It could happen, but I'm expecting a double leg."
The main contributors to The Buzz are:
- Steve Silva, Boston.com senior sports producer
- Gary Dzen, Boston.com senior sports producer
- Zuri Berry, Boston.com sports producer