The UFC staged a promotional event with its most spectacular fighter and tested the Caribbean waters to do an eventual mixed martial arts event in Puerto Rico, perhaps as soon as 2015. Although there was no specific announcement about an UFC event on the island, it was an exploratory mission into a territory where boxing and fight sports have great appeal.
The mixed martial arts organization staged a two-day blitz in Puerto Rico to promote its sport where its lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, known as “showtime” for his fight arsenal and exciting fights, participated in several promotional events in San Juan.
With his brother Sergio, Pettis arrived at the San Juan’s Central Park and conducted a seminar. Hundreds of fans and aspiring fighters showed up to get fighting tips from the UFC’s lightweight champion. As he demonstrated a snap kick to the leg, the students present imitated with zeal. The enthusiasm was palpable. After hearing the “thwack” of an overeager leg kick, Pettis insisted they take it easy and noted that they were not wearing protective gear.
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The next day, they did a press conference led by UFC President Dana White in a San Juan sports bar .”I can’t believe Puerto Rico is so nice” exclaimed White. “I’ve only been here a few hours and it’s been great!”
White tipped his hat to the Latino heritage in fight sports. “Hispanics have been dominating combat sports since the beginning of time. And I expect them to do the same in our lower categories,” White said.
The UFC honcho had come into town to try to tip the balance of fight sports from the entrenched boxing towards mixed martial arts, the way the multi-discipline cage combat now has the upper hand on the mainland over the “sweet science.”
“I know Puerto Ricans love boxing,” said White. “So do I.” (In other evidence of the changing landscape of sports on the island: when the press conference was over the sports bar showed a soccer match from Spain’s la Liga)
Pettis, who explained that “as my grandfather told us,” had his name changed when they arrived in the American Midwest, and explained that his mother is Mexican and deceased father Puerto Rican.
Tito Trinidad, the former welterweight and middleweight world champion and a local legend, admitted, “Boxing’s tough, but MMA is muy, muy duro [tough]. “They kick, punch…the UFC is brutal.”
Another fan showed up with a professional-looking poster that said “Dana, give us a fight.” Roberto Cruz, who flew in from Tampa in the morning and was flying back after the press conference, gushed over ultimate fighting and was invited on stage by White, who upgraded his tickets to the upcoming UFC event in Orlando on April 17.
Pettis periodically travels to Puerto Rico with his girlfriend to visit her family. “I grew up watching Tito, and I loved him. When the Trinidad v. De la Hoya fight was on, our house was divided,” Pettis recalled.
For the finale, Trinidad stepped up on stage and tugged at Pettis’ lightweight belt and posed in the classic fight pose. The “Tito, Tito” chant morphed into a “Pettis, Pettis” variation.
“With the food here, I don’t know how Tito made weight,” Pettis stated.
In the contest as to who prevailed with their charisma with the fans, Trinidad and Pettis both won. It remains to be seen when the UFC will deliver the real party in San Juan.