If you were expecting some Conor McGregor-level trash talk and pontificating in advance of the UFC’s first event of 2016, Monday’s media conference call was as far removed from that as possible.
The four principals involved in Saturday night’s final two pairings were all business and clearly focused on the task at hand and nothing else.
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There were no shouting matches or put downs, no cross-talk between competitors or predictions about sub-four-minute finishes – just four fighters with a heavy dose of respect for the man they’re about to face and an unwavering belief that the work they’ve put in for the kickoff event of the 2016 fight calendar will produce an exciting fight – with their hand being raised.
In the penultimate bout of the night, Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski square off in one of several intriguing heavyweight clashes on the calendar prior to the championship rematch between Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez at UFC 196 on Feb. 6.
With Miocic coming off a fifth-round stoppage win over Mark Hunt in May and Arlovski extending his winning streak to six with a fourth consecutive win since returning to the UFC over Frank Mir in September, these two are very much in the mix at the top of the list of potential future title challengers.
Neither had any interest in discussing such possibilities on Monday. Instead, each praised the recent efforts of their Saturday night dance partner and spoke of letting the chips fall where they may.
“Right now, I’m focused on my fight with Stipe Miocic,” Arlovski began when the former heavyweight champion was asked what potentially fighting for the title in the future would mean to him at this stage of his career. “He’s tough, very dangerous and is definitely a big, big test for me. I have to fight smart and I have a lot of respect for him. We’ll see what’s going to happen after.”
Miocic also avoided speculation beyond Saturday.
“All I care about right now is Jan. 2 and my fight with Andrei,” added Miocic, who is 7-2 in the UFC and currently ranked No. 3 in the heavyweight division, one spot behind the man he’ll face this weekend. “It should be a helluva fight. I’m super-confident and can’t wait.
“I would love for that to happen and get that shot,” he continued, when asked if he felt the need to make a statement against Arlovski in the wake of Alistair Overeem’s knockout win over Junior Dos Santos two weeks ago in Orlando. “But all I care about is January 2nd. Andrei’s coming in ready to bang and so am I.”
While the heavyweight contenders setting the table for the final fight had to combat questions about potential future opportunities, a great deal of the inquiries directed towards this weekend’s headlining act – welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Carlos Condit – centered around their previous battles and triumphs in the cage and the adjustments each has made over the course of their career to get to this point.
And as each spoke confidently about the steps taken in advance of Saturday’s championship showdown, they also made it clear that they have a great deal of respect for their opponent.
“The main focus is staying sharp, staying healthy and being able to fight,” Lawler, who has famously talked about avoiding hard sparring in advance of his fights since returning to the UFC, said. “When push comes to shove, I’m always ready to go. I don’t think you need to show your toughness in practice; I show my toughness when the cameras are on, in front of the big lights and all of the fans.”
Lawler enters this matchup, his second defense of the welterweight title he claimed at UFC 181, on the heels of an epic back-and-forth battle with Rory MacDonald in the summer that landed at the top of every Fight of the Year list that came out over the last couple weeks.
Despite a resume built against many elite strikers, the champion was quick to praise what the current challenger brings to the table.
“I don’t ever really rank guys, but obviously Carlos is way up there,” he said of where Condit fits amongst the top strikers he’s faced in his career. “Every striker is different and has their little tweaks. Carlos is a kickboxer and he’s got a little different style than most, but he’s high up there and I definitely have to be focused. He brings everything to the table when it comes to strikes, so I have to be sharp.”
Given the opportunity to place Lawler in a hierarchy of dangerous opponents, “The Natural Born Killer” was quick to put the reigning welterweight champion at the top of the list.
“He’s probably the most dangerous guy that I’ve ever faced,” Condit said of Lawler, heady praise from a man that has shared the Octagon with a Who’s Who of the 170-pound ranks over the last decade. “He’s super-skilled, but he’s also got the power and he’s got experience and he’s a smart fighter. I’m going to have to be on my A-game.”
With both men having a history of exciting fights and consistently bringing electricity to the Octagon, they anticipate nothing different when the share the cage on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which means 2016 should start with a bang.
“I go out there and try to finish people – try to knock them out and beat them down,” said Lawler, who has collected 20 knockout wins in 26 career victories. “That’s just my style, so I don’t have to change anything or amp anything up; that’s just who I am.”
Added Condit, who has earned a finish in 28 of his 30 professional victories thus far: “You lock me in a cage with a fighter like Robbie, I’m going to have to rise to the occasion or it’s not going to go well for me.
“He’s not backing down and neither am I, so it’s going to be a great fight.”