Spicey behind-the-scenes at press conference

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Anderson and Okami staredown / Photo: Wander Roberto/UFC

With exception to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there are things that only happen in Rio.

Ask the security guard at the bank who, when the metal detector sounded, inquired what the pretty young lady sporting glasses and long hair had in her purse, Thursday afternoon. “The UFC belt!” she laughed.

She happened to be one of the producers of the event in Brazil, the person responsible for taking care of Anderson Silva’s silver waist accessory, who had to drop by the bank before showing up at the Copacabana Palace, where the promotion’s head honchos Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White and company met with the press for a chat about UFC Rio/134, with local secretary of Tourism Antônio Pedro de Mello partaking as well.

Dana White / Photo: Wander Roberto/UFC

At 3:02 pm, as the organization’s president, Dana, somewhat timorously divulged the information scrawled on a sheaf of papers, the GRACIEMAG.com reporter crossed the Copacabana Hotel’s corridor and came upon an Indian file. There, on carpets trod over by such gentlemen as John Wayne, George VI, Robert DeNiro, Kirk Douglas and Will Smith, the fans and press eagerly awaited star of another sort – the likes of Rodrigo Minotauro, Mauricio Shogun, Yushin Okami, Forrest Griffin and Brendan Schaub. Last in line, Dana was still the first to make his entrance. Suddenly, though, Anderson Silva tumbled onto us, knocked over by hotel security. Not the fighter, just one of those panels, real-sized but without the same sense of balance.

The press conference played out the way you could already discern it did from reading this so far, quite similar to how other press conferences around the planet unfold. With some local seasoning, of course: “Did you come to Rio for our fighters or the exuberance of our ladies?” said the stooge from comic relief show Pânico na TV!, pointing to the cover of Playboy magazine with Juju Salimeni on it. Dana started to laugh, but he came out looking exhausted – perhaps more for the long flight than the questions rained on him at the conference.

At staredown time – half prankster, half polite – Anderson tried to get challenger Yushin Okami, his opponent in the main event, to grab hold of his belt too, to make it seem as though he were the man to beat come August 27. The Japanese fighter promptly refused, less put off than confident, as though he were certain his time to take it in his hands would come, without having to share it with everyone else.

At the post press conference brunch, doubt took over. Did anyone but himself, or that friendly Japanese translator Sandra Murayama, all stylish with her cane, believe in Okami? “I wouldn’t put money on him,” I was told by Forrest Griffin, one of Anderson’s most famous victims, “But Okami’s so tough, and it could happen. He deserves to challenger, has heavy hands and good reach, but let’s see what happens.”

Okami smiling and confident / Foto: Wander Roberto/UFC

The Brazilians present were less believing, though. “Two Okamis wouldn’t make one Anderson,” spat an MMA commentator, “But a fight’s a fight. Okami’s best bet would be for Anderson to let himself go, for being so superior. But the fact that it’s a rematch, after the Brazilian was disqualified in Hawaii (in 2006), of his last loss, will probably mean Anderson is going to come in thirsty to make a snack of him. Even more because it will be in Brazil. And if that’s how he comes in, I don’t think Okami will last two minutes,” he added.

To “O Globo” newspaper, Okami duly promised to crush Silva. After getting a taste of the hotel’s tea, while a photographer skirted Pânico’s resident jester, I inquired to the Japanese star whether the expression “crush” was indicative of part of his strategy – that is, if he was going to try to take the same route as his training partner Chael Sonnen, who managed to hold down and wail on Silva at UFC 117, crushing him from within the guard.

“No, No, I didn’t say anything about tactics. I meant to destroy. I’m going to destroy Silva,” said Yushin, brimming with confidence, going on to talk a bit about Jiu-Jitsu, which he learned from Japanese fighters, among them a Jean Jacques Machado black belt. Could he have the wherewithal to silence 16,000 spectators com August 27? With that lingering question, I went for another tea.

 

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