Fighters face extra foe in Chicago: winter chill

CHICAGO — Polar vortex sounds as if it could be the name of some fancy new submission move in the ever-evolving sport of mixed martial arts.

To be fair, it also could be the name of a professional wrestler.

In this case, however, it is the weather phenomenon bringing frigid temperatures to much of the Midwest and Northeast.

While the United Center will be a comfortable 72 degrees for the UFC on Fox 10 event tonight, the competitors have had to deal with the bitter cold leading up to their fights.

That could spell trouble for fighters who ideally would like to be in tip-top shape when they step into the cage to fight another finely conditioned athlete who wants to punch their face.

It wouldn’t take much to get sick in a climate that hasn’t needed more than one digit on the thermometer all week.

While some fighters have handled the conditions better than others, there is agreement that the key is to be careful.

“This is where I live. I’m used to it,” said Darren Elkins, a featherweight from Indiana who will fight Jeremy Stephens. “You definitely have to put the vitamins back inside you. I drink a lot of teas and stuff like that. I’m always pretty careful around fight time. You’ve just got to try to stay warm as much as you can.”

That’s easier said than done.

Former lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who will fight Josh Thomson in the main event, says he let out a yell that sounded like a teeth-gritted version of pro wrestler Ric Flair’s trademark “Woo” as soon as he stepped out of the airport Tuesday.

“It’s cold,” he said Thursday. “When it hits you and that wind hits you, oh, man. I was here before, and sure, it was chilly. But nothing like this. And then that wind. No sir.”

Henderson, who lives in Phoenix, said the weather altered his plans Thursday.

“I walked down to Starbucks, and we planned on getting coffee, then walking to the next block to grab food,” he said. “Then we got there, and I was like, ‘This is as far as we go. We’re eating here. Get yourself some sandwiches, we’re not walking any farther. We’re going back to the hotel.’ ”

Henderson lost his title to Anthony Pettis in August and hopes a win over Thomson will put him back in line to challenge for the belt.

“You have to be aware,” Henderson said. “You have to be smart about not getting sick and taking care of the little details. It’s always in the back of your mind.”

Thomson made a spectacular return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship with a head-kick knockout of Nate Diaz after almost a decade of fighting in other organizations. He hopes a similar performance against the former champ will ensure his spot as a top contender.

Thomson also hopes that because he had the flu two weeks ago he won’t get sick again.

“I went to high school in northern Idaho, where it was cold as heck,” he said. “I know how to dress and bundle up and do all that other stuff. You just really try to stay indoors and minimize the exposure to the cold. Hydrate a lot and make sure you take your vitamins.”

UFC president Dana White says there is always something going on behind the scenes to worry about to make sure the events go off without a hitch.

The cold weather just adds another element this week.

“When you put on fights in the winter, no matter where you are anywhere in the world, it’s a risk you run of guys getting sick. I try not to think about that stuff,” White said. “When we have a big fight coming up, guys start showing up on Monday, and right away I start asking my people, ‘Hey, everyone make it in yet? Everybody’s good right? Everybody’s here?’

“But getting sick just happens. That kind of stuff, you can’t help it.”

Donald Cerrone lives in Albuquerque, N.M., so he knows about the cold. But even he was stunned when he got to Chicago to prepare for his lightweight bout with rising prospect Adriano Martins.

“When someone tells you how cold it is, you’re like, ‘All right, that’s pretty cold, ” he said. “When you actually feel it, it’s just like, ‘Oh my God.’”

There was one positive to the weather for Henderson. On Thursday, when the wind chill factor at night fell to almost minus-25 degrees, he was proudly wearing a brown leather jacket.

Henderson said he bought it in high school as a reward for placing second in the state of Washington wrestling tournament.

“I had to dig it out of storage for this week,” he said.

The four-fight main card, which also features a heavyweight bout between Gabriel Gonzaga and Stipe Miocic, airs live on Fox (Cable 5) at 5 p.m.

The six-fight preliminary card, highlighted by Pettis’ younger brother Sergio in his second UFC fight, against bantamweight Alex Caceres, airs live at 2 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329).

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.