Who said you can't go home again?
Dana White, the former South Boston resident who has gone on to greater fame (and fortune) as president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, certainly felt the warm embrace of his hometown when he brought UFC 118 to TD Garden Saturday night.
``It exceeded my expectations in every way, shape and form,'' said White, who was dazzled by the response of the crowd of 15,575 who generated gate revenues of $3 million. ``I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.''
In the lightweight title bout, reigning champion Frankie Edgar retained his title with a five-round unanimous decision over BJ Penn, setting the stage for a rematch against Gray Maynard (the only fighter Edgar has not defeated in his UFC career) after Maynard rose to No. 1 contender following his three-round unanimous decision over Kenny Florian, the 1999 Boston College graduate and 34-year-old Dover native.
In the co-main event, 47-year-old UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture handily disposed of 42-year-old heavyweight boxing champion James ``Lights Out'' Toney with a first-round submission at 3:19 with an arm triangle choke. In the matter of boxing vs. mixed martial arts, Couture proved boxers, especially those trying to peddle their past ring glory, had no business in the octagon.
``He's a boxer and that's what he does,'' White said. ``He wanted to fight in the UFC and he picked a fight with our guys and we won tonight. Listen, he's a tough guy and he's been around a long and I have a lot of respect for James Toney, but you can't expect a guy in one discipline to have great ground work.
``But, you know what, he stepped up and he came in and he wanted to do it and he did it,'' White said. ``When this thing started out, a lot of fans wanted to see it, so I made the fight. No disrespect to boxing. I'm not trying to hurt anybody or anything, but he picked a fight and he got one.
``He hung in there longer than I thought he would,'' White said of Toney, who pared himself down to 237 for his fight against the 220-pound Couture. ``James isn't the most physically fit boxer on the planet. I'll tell you what, from the day I signed him in my office, he's lost a lot of weight since that day. He took it seriously and he took a shot.''
Here's a wrapup of the UFC's debut event in the State of Massachusetts.
* Submission of night: Joe Lauzon of Bridgewater, Mass., who took home a $60,000 bonus for his tap out of Gabe Ruediger at 2:01 of the first round with a cross-body arm bar.
``He looked absolutely phenomenal tonight,'' White said of Lauzon. ``Somebody asked me at the pre-fight press conference, `How's Gabe Ruediger coming back here?' Somebody stumped me with that one. Joe Silva made that fight and he told me, `How's Ruediger coming back? He's won like seven fights in a row and the last guy he beat was undefeated.' So big win tonight for Lauzon, especially the way he did it.''
* Fight of the night: Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis. Both fighters won a $60,000 bonus for their bloody three-round bout. Diaz won with his third-round submission over Davis, a former boxer from Bangor, Maine, who was choked out of consciousness at 4:02 of the third round. This, after Davis sustained a brutal pummeling in the first two rounds that opened up a pair of nasty cuts over his right eyebrow and eye lid.
``It was an absolute war,'' White marveled. ``Those two were going at it the whole night, non-stop, throwing bombs. Marcus Davis got cut up real bad, didn't want the fight stopped, and wanted to keep the fight going. Congratulations to both fighters.''
* White indicated the UFC, which televises events to more than 500 million homes worldwide (their count), is expected to double now that it has announced an initiative to establish a presence in Asia _ UFC Asia _ with a keen eye on expansion to China, in particular.
``With this move, and with some of the other things we're working on, it would put us in over one billion homes worldwide,'' White projected. ``When I keep saying this is going to be the biggest sport in the world, and people keep thinking I'm a lunatic, I'm telling you right now, when we're in more than a billion homes and counting, and growing, just wait and see what happens.''
White said the UFC had hired Mark Fischer, a native of Concord, Mass. who had previously worked for 12 years as vice president and managing director of NBA Asia, as UFC's executive vice president and managing director for Asia.
* White was overwhelmed by the response to the mixed martial arts event, from the media in particular. ``I said it many, many times this week: I love this city, I love the people and I'm blown away by how the media treated us here this week,'' he said. ``It's been awesome, overwhelming, fantastic.
``We've been in a lot of cities where people are absolutely nuts about mixed martial arts and where cities have had it open for a long time,'' White said, ``But we don't get the kind of coverage that we got here this week. They media here gave us coverage like the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl, man. It was incredible. Me, personally, in every, way, shape and form, being from here and being able to come here, I'm completely ecstatic, overwhelmed and honored.''
*Among the Boston sports celebrities who turned out for the Couture-Toney fight were Glen ``Big Baby'' Davis and newly acquired Shaquille O'Neal, who mugged for the cameras by putting Davis in a mock submission hold; Patriots Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Stephen Neal and UFC stars Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, who had been called out by Toney as being unworthy of stepping in the same ring as him. Liddell and Ortiz were on hand to watch Couture administer a Boston beatdown to Toney, MMA-style.
``My Twitter and my texts were going crazy, with everyone [from UFC] wanting me to tear him up,'' Couture said. ``I think they had emotional responses to all the things he said and I couldn't allow myself to get into that. There was a lot of people who wanted to see James go down tonight.''
With UFC looking to expand to Asia, White was asked if Shaq, a UFC fight fan, had made any mention about his desire to fight a 7-foot-4-inch Chinese behemoth in the octagon.
``Shaq wants to fight everybody, he's crazy,'' White said. ``He needs to keep playing basketball. I love Shaq and he's been awesome to this company, but the only thing he needs to worry about is beating LA.''
The main contributors to The Buzz are:
- Matt Pepin, Boston.com sports editor
- Steve Silva, Boston.com senior sports producer
- Gary Dzen, Boston.com senior sports producer
- Zuri Berry, Boston.com sports producer