Perth’s UFC wait is almost over

MMA


PERTH, Australia — Luke Rockhold arrived on a camel. Yoel Romero just wanted to dance. Yes, it was a bizarre workout session in Perth, but the local supporters lapped it all up as they countdown the hours to their first taste of UFC action.

Fifteen deep they stood at Perth’s Elizabeth Quay, fans keen to catch a glimpse of the middleweight duo – the headline act for UFC 221 – as well American Curtis Blaydes and veteran Kiwi Mark Hunt, who received the biggest roar of all.

With Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all having hosted UFC cards beforehand, Perth fight fans have either had to travel across the country or sit on their hands and wait for Western Australia’s ban on cage fighting to be lifted. That finally happened midway through last year, paving the way for UFC 221.

“Everyone’s here to see history, the first time the UFC [is] in Perth and they’ve turned out in big numbers and it’s great,” Hunt told reporters after putting himself through easily the longest workout of all four fighters.

“That’s how it should be when you get to the top, big crowds, big everything…I think it’s great. The Perth people turned out, regardless of how quiet this place is as I’ve noticed, they’ve all turned out in force here, the UFC fans. I’m rapt about that.”

Rockhold’s entry certainly stole the show on Friday, the No.2 ranked middleweight surprising fans from behind as he rolled up to his workout on top of a camel. With desert covering large portions of Western Australia, it was a fitting tribute for the event and one that almost represents the long journey it has been to get to Sunday’s maiden event.

“These things just come to me,” Rockhold explained. “Some people arrive on chariots, some people pick white horses; but here in Perth I picked a camel.”

Rockhold’s actual workout was short, but it still lasted much longer than Romero who called three fans on stage for a spot of salsa dancing. Both men certainly realise the value of “the show” within the show, before they get down to business at the Perth Arena on Sunday morning [AWST].

“I think Yoel’s body has limitations, [but] I think he has the mindset of a champion,” Rockhold said of the actual fight itself. “He’ll come forward, he’s competed on every level against the best guys in the world, on so many different stages around the world. So he’ll fight to the end, his mind will tell him to. But his body will break.

“A body like that can only go so hard and so long; his explosions will get less and less as the fight goes on, so I have to contain that. If I don’t catch him early, coming in sloppy, coming in crazy, this fight’s going to dramatically change for me as this fight goes on. I’m going to take advantage of that and I’m going to start running away.”

After wrapping up his media commitments, Rockhold mixed with fans for around 30 minutes signing autographs and posing for photos.

Finally it was Romero’s turn, the Cuban taking the microphone before a very brief stretching session morphed into an impromptu salsa class. Speaking in English, Romero recalled his previous trip to Australia for the 2000 Sydney Olympics before saying how happy he was to back Down Under.

Again, the fans loved it. A short while later while addressing the media, Romero was asked about Rockhold’s comments he would dominate the fight.

“First of all, the Philistines said Goliath had to kill David because he was a great fighter and David was just an average bloke,” Romero explained via a translator. “Who won that fight?

“I feel like the Son of God and I believe that it is a blessing for me to feel this way.”

A big entry and a tribute to Western Australia, a touch of Central American culture and the promise of a David & Goliath-type battle, Perth couldn’t have asked for much more on Friday. With little more than 36 hours until the first undercard begins, their long wait for the full UFC show is almost at an end.



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