English middleweight Michael (The Count) Bisping stole the show at the UFC 152 news conference Thursday, jamming his face into opponent Brian (All American) Stann as the two posed for photos.
Bisping and Stann stood nose-to-nose, then the Brit leaned forward and edged his forehead into the American’s face. Stann moved back a step and then stood his ground, their eyes locked.
When they broke the pose, Stann paused before being the first to put out his hand and they shook.
But the former marine war hero did not remain with Bisping for a secondary pose for photos. Instead, clearly not happy, Stann glared at the English fighter from the side of the stage while a smirking Bisping took centre stage alone to adopt a fighting stance.
Bisping added some trash talk later in the day.
“He put his nose against mine and it was like an Eskimo kiss, so I pressed my forehead again his,” Bisping said. “I saw all the macho-ness drain out of him like someone had pulled a plug in a bath. He looked like a little girl who had got separated from her parents at Disneyland and has wet herself, and was all alone and scared.
“He knows he can’t win this fight. He probably called home right away and said ‘Honey, I’m not getting a win bonus. Hold off on ordering that new kitchen.“’
Tweeted Stann: “Sat cannot come soon enough.”
There were no such fireworks when light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones and challenger Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort or flyweight title contenders Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson faced off.
The fight card goes Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Bad blood at the photo op aside, it was a pretty routine pre-fight gathering before fans and media at the Real Sports Bar and Grill, other than the revelation from Belfort that Jones is his seven-year-old son Davi’s favourite fighter.
All six fighters on hand were quick to talk up Canada’s passion for MMA. Still tickets remain for the show, the UFC’s 10th in Canada and third in Toronto.
“Even if I get booed, I’m still happy to be here,” Jones said with a smile.
Jones’ popularity took a blow when he decided not to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC 151, a move that led the UFC to cancel the Sept. 1 Las Vegas card.
“I definitely really feel horrible about the way it all played out,” said Jones, while adding he was not the one that cancelled the show.
“Life is about moving forward ... I believe a good performance (Saturday) will definitely help people forget,” he added. “For the people who refuse to forget, I don’t know what to say to you about that.”
He said he wasn’t sure if his decision might have been different if he had known saying no would have caused the show to be called off. And he wondered why the card wasn’t allowed to go ahead without him, saying it showed disrespect to the other fighters on the billing.
“Some real questions have to be asked to Dana why the fight got cancelled.”
UFC president Dana White was not at the news conference — travel problems were cited — but he is slated to meet Jones before the weigh-in Friday to hash out any differences.
The UFC needed a new opponent for Jones when Dan Henderson withdrew due to injury. Belfort subsequently volunteered and Jones agreed to meet the 35-year-old former champion on four weeks notice.
Jones’ image had already taken a dent with a drunk driving charge.
On Thursday, he talked of the difficulties of going from an ordinary person “being able to just be the person you want to be at all times” to having “a lot of people believe that they know you already, when there’s just so many sides of me that aren’t demonstrated every day.”
“What it’s forced me to do is just be more secure in the person that I am and trust in my personality,” he said.
The 25-year-old champion credited a conversation with his girlfriend’s mother for helping him.
“I told her it’s awesome to be in this position but it’s also extremely stressful,” he related. “I said ‘It’s tough.’ And she said ‘You know what, you’ve got to look at the adversity in your life as new opportunities to grow.’ And I really took that to heart.
“Right now I’m on top of a lot of things. I’m doing a great job as a parent, a great job with my business and I’m doing really well with my performances. I’m training really smart with everything. So I really believe a lot of the adversity in my life, it can help me be stronger individually, I think it made my life a lot more interesting. Not necessarily fun but I gave everybody something to do.
“I believe that I’ve grown from all of it and I actually appreciate the curve balls that life has thrown me.”
Whether Belfort (21-9) will test Jones (16-1) remains to be seen. Jones has already disposed of four former light-heavyweight champions in Mauricio (Shogun) Rua, Quinton (Rampage) Jackson, Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida and Rashad Evans.
Bookmakers have made Jones an 8-1 or 9-1 favourite.
Jones, who had admitted Wednesday he was feeling his weight cut, said Thursday he had a “phenomenal” four weeks in preparing for Belfort.
Belfort has been training with Evans’ Blackzillians camp in Florida and looks bulked up in his first fight at 205 pounds in five years. But the hard-hitting Brazilian is giving up 10 years, four inches in height and 10.5 inches in reach to the six-foot-four Jones.
At times, Bisping served as agitator at the news conference, attempting to shut down questions he thought that didn’t rate.
He poked fun at the 5-foot-4 Benavidez, who was sitting next to him, saying playfully “He’s turned down a fight with my son.”
Benavidez and the 5-foot-3 Johnson earned laughs as they recounted their visit with Bisping to the Air Canada Centre for a Coldplay concert earlier this year.
“I was just thinking come two months we’re going to be in the middle, putting on a show, and these fans are going to be going crazy for us,” said Benavidez. “Yeah, people won’t be crying and having lighters, but that many people we’re going to be controlling in there and we’re going to be the ones in the middle putting on a show.
“Even though we were at Coldplay, I was still thinking of taking him (Johnson) out. I’m not going to lie,” he added.
NOTES — The UFC has engaged a third party to handle drug testing since the Ontario Athletic Commission does not test fighters ... The UFC has scheduled a news conference for next Thursday in Montreal to formally announce the Georges St-Pierre-Carlos Condit main event for UFC 154 on Nov. 17 at the Bell Centre.Report Typo/Error