(Sports Network) - Coming off a highly successful centennial show headlined by heavyweights Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its debut in Philadelphia on August 8.
UFC 100 in Las Vegas is now officially the largest grossing live mixed martial arts event in North American history. The gate, along with the official closed circuit overflow on the strip, tallied in at $5,441,290, trumping the previous record of $5,397,300 set on December 30, 2006 for a Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz clash.
Meanwhile, the pay-per-view is tracking in at over 1.5 million buys, the most ever for an MMA event and one of the six biggest pay-per-view events of all- time, trailing the record holder of Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (2.4 million) and four Mike Tyson bouts, two against Evander Holyfield, one with Lennox Lewis and another vs. Peter McNeely.
The controversial Lesnar, a former World Wrestling Entertainment champ and NCAA national wrestling kingpin at Minnesota, was clearly the fighter fueling the record sales at UFC 100. As a follow-up, the company is bringing some of its biggest stars to the Wachovia Center for UFC 101: Declaration, as BJ Penn defends his UFC lightweight crown against number one contender Kenny Florian, and UFC middleweight boss Anderson Silva moves up to the 205-pound weight class to take on former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.
"We are excited to finally be able to host a UFC event in Philadelphia," said Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko. "This is a terrific opportunity for the facility, our company and most importantly UFC fans in the Greater Philadelphia Region."
"I know how much people are craving UFC on the East Coast," Florian added.
Neither Penn nor Silva can match Lesnar's awesome charisma, but they both bring far more technical skill to the Octagon. The pride of Hilo, Hawaii, Penn (13-5-1) is on the short list of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and will be returning to the division he has dominated.
Unbeaten at 155 pounds since 2002, Penn bested Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, and Sean Sherk in successive lightweight fights before suffering an ugly setback in his challenge for Georges St-Pierre's welterweight crown in January,
St-Pierre battered Penn and forced him to retire on his stool at the end of the fourth round in that one. Afterwards Penn filed a formal complaint with the Nevada State Athletic Commission over Vaseline that was allegedly rubbed on St-Pierre back between rounds one and two.
UFC president Dana White said he personally witnessed members of the commission take Vaseline away from GSP's camp and rebuke them in the Octagon between rounds but didn't think it had an impact on the fight.
"I saw the commission jump up there and flipping out," White said at the time. "They said one of the guys was rubbing Vaseline on Georges' back in between rounds. Some Vaseline on a guy's back didn't change the outcome of that fight."
Penn certainly took some heat over his complaints but has now accepted the loss and is hoping to move on.
"I lost my last fight and I want to get back to form," Penn said on a conference call Tuesday."Every fighter is difficult. But I have to go out and show everyone what I'm all about."
In just six years as a pro, Florian (13-3) has fought in the middleweight, welterweight, and lightweight divisions, and earned a spot in the finals on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. The 33-year-old Boston native once won six bouts in a row, including victories over Joe Lauzon, Stevenson, and Roger Huerta, and is taking his second shot at the lightweight hardware.
"I had a front row seat at the St-Pierre-Penn fight and I thought it was just a masterful performance from GSP, Florian told The Sun in London, "(B.J.) will be motivated after his last loss to St-Pierre, he'll be training harder than ever and he'll be at his best. But every part of my game has improved and people are going to see that. I'm going to beat him skill for skill."
Adding fuel to the fire, Penn is fired up at Florian, saying the contender sent him a text message calling St-Pierre a "big 'roider' and a greaser and stuff," something that fueled Penn's suspicions about GSP. Florian denies he sent any text, however.
Currently sporting the longest consecutive win streak in UFC history at nine, Silva (24-4) has also tied the organization record for most consecutive successful title defenses at five, beating the likes of Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin, Patrick Cote, and Thales Leites along the way.
But, the 34-year old native of Curitiba, Brazil will be tackling the light heavyweight division for just the second time in Philly. In his first 205- pound bout, Silva blitzed James Irvin in just 61 seconds last July.
Griffin (16-5), the winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and a man credited by many as one of the reasons for the explosion of MMA in the United States following his TUF finale bout in 2005, holds wins over top-tier talent like Quinton Jackson and Mauricio Rua.
The 30-year-old former light heavyweight king hopes to claw his way back into the title hunt with a win over Silva.
"Anderson Silva is the pound for pound best fighter in the world. He's so good that he demands a serious challenge, someone who can push the pace and make him fight," said White. "To me, nobody fits the bill more than Griffin. Anderson is tremendously skilled but hes going up a weight class and Forrest is a huge light heavyweight - this is going to be a war."
UFC 101: AUGUST 8, 2009
venue: Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Main Card Bouts:
-B.J. Penn (13-5-1) vs. Kenny Florian (12-3)
-Anderson Silva (24-4) vs. Forrest Griffin (18-5)
-Amir Sadollah (5-0) vs. Johny Hendricks (5-0)
-Ricardo Almeida (10-3) vs. Kendall Grove (12-5)
-Kurt Pellegrino (13-4) vs. Josh Neer (25-7-1)
-Aaron Riley (27-11-1) vs. Shane Nelson (12-3)
-Tamdan McCrory (11-2) vs. John Howard (11-4)
-Alessio Sakara (13-7) vs. Thales Leites (14-2)
-Matt Riddle (3-1) vs. Dan Cramer (3-1)
-George Sotiropoulos (11-3) vs. George Roop (9-4)
-Jesse Lennox (10-1) vs. Danillo Villefort (9-2)
By John McMullen, Contributing MMA Editor