UFC getting choked out

UFC fans wait outside Tactix Gym in in Vancouver, B.C., during an open workout yesterday. As you...

UFC fans wait outside Tactix Gym in in Vancouver, B.C., during an open workout yesterday. As you may tell by the sheer amount of people here, UFC fever isn’t exactly running wild in Van City. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:25 AM ET

VANCOUVER - Somewhere in the Nevada desert, you just know that Dana White felt a momentary chill run down his spine.

As if he hasn’t had enough trouble putting together this weekend’s UFC 131 show at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, the UFC boss almost lost one of his main event fighters on Wednesday afternoon.

Well, not really, but heavyweight Junior dos Santos did come close to performing the old “Scuba Diver Flop” into a UFC backdrop at the open workout, which was held inside an old garage converted into a MMA gym. After finishing an interview, the Brazilian heavyweight stumbled backwards into the UFC backdrop, just catching himself before falling on to his back. Everyone laughed, though some UFC types were seen breathing into paper bags.

A injury to dos Santos would have been the bitter icing on the cake for White, who flew into Vancouver on Wednesday night for this weekend’s activities. This beautiful city has already proven itself a worthy host for the UFC. UFC 115 last June was a magnificent success.

But Saturday’s card at the Rogers Arena appears to be somewhat snakebitten.

Originally, UFC 131 was to feature mixed martial arts heavyweight legend Brock Lesnar facing his Ultimate Fighter counterpart Junior dos Santos in the main event. But Lesnar was hit with a another bout of diverticulitis a few weeks ago and had to withdraw from the fight (he underwent surgery on May 27). Fellow American Shane Carwin, who lost to Lesnar at UFC 116 last July 3, was recruited to fight dos Santos — and while both dos Santos and Carwin are accomplished heavyweights with good records, neither can hold a candle to Lesnar in terms of fan popularity.

Not having Lesnar here has taken a bit of a sheen off the event.

Even dos Santos expressed his disappointment over Lesnar’s absence.

“I’m a little bit disappointed because Brock Lesnar was the former heavyweight champion and the most popular fighter in the world, so that fight was supposed to be very good for me,” said the Brazilian brawler who, curiously, has only one cauliflowered ear, the other being perfectly normal.

For his part, Carwin repeatedly described himself on Wednesday as just “an average guy,” a description that’s hardly going to cause a run on the gate.

Aside from Lesnar’s illness, it has been one withdrawal after another leading up to UFC 131. Hell, Winnipeg light-heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski has actually had two opponents withdraw from the card because of injury, before UFC veteran Mike Massenzio was rounded up to fight the Polish-Canadian.

And unlike UFC 129 in Toronto on April 30, there are no actual title bouts on the UFC 131 card. And there are no Canadians on the main card.

UFC 129 featured two Canadians — welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and London featherweight Mark Hominick — fighting for world titles.

Perhaps that’s why, as of Wednesday afternoon, the 19,000-seat Rogers Arena was yet to be sold out. UFC 129 at the 55,000-seat Rogers Centre sold out in minutes.

Yes, if there’s a buzz in Van City for this weekend’s event, it’s being drowned out.

Something about a hockey team.

Vancouverites sporting Canucks shirts and jerseys are everywhere.

UFC freaks, with those wacky MMA T-shirts, seem to be keeping a low profile.

In fact, there were all of two autograph seekers waiting outside of the Tactix Gym, site of Wednesday’s open workouts, and both wore Canucks sweaters.

So whether it’s the Stanley Cup, or the card itself, UFC fever seems to have, so far at least, bypassed Van City.

No doubt that will change on Friday at the weigh-ins, where Dover, Mass., native Kenny Florian, who is fighting Brazilian featherweight Diego Nunes in the co-main event, shows up wearing a Boston Bruins jersey.

That just might get a few people around here excited about something other than the next hockey game.


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