UFC sees opportunity to gain foothold in Mexico

Should 2013 prove to finally be the year the Ultimate Fighting Championship is able to increase its footprint in Mexico, the final event of 2012 will likely be a major reason why.

A pair of fighters with massive appeal south of the border came through with big performances at UFC 155 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden.

Cain Velasquez, the American-born son of a Mexican immigrant father, regained the heavyweight title with a dominating performance against Junior dos Santos that will only increase Velasquez’s star power in his father’s homeland.

Rising bantamweight prospect Erik Perez, a 23-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, earned his third consecutive first-round stoppage since signing with the organization by knocking out Byron Bloodworth.

The UFC has long desired an increased television presence in Mexico and has visions of holding a live event in the country as early as this coming year.

Velasquez and Perez will be vital to that effort.

“Obviously it doesn’t hurt with the two guys that won tonight and how they looked,” UFC president Dana White said. “Cain being the heavyweight champion and winning the way that he did, and (Perez) is actually from Mexico, has a great story and is really good.”

White is shocked the organization isn’t already a huge hit in Mexico, but difficulties negotiating television deals in the country have proven to be a roadblock.

“When we started this thing, I really thought the three no-brainers (for success) were the United States, the United Kingdom and Mexico,” White said. “We’ve been working on Mexico hard for a long time. We’re still working hard on it.”

There have been some obstacles in the U.K., but nothing like the challenges the UFC has faced in Mexico.

That could change soon.

Plans are in place to film a Mexican season of the organization’s reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” early next year, and Velasquez could headline the first live show in the country.

“Definitely one of my dreams to fight there. Just having such close ties with my family being from there. As a kid, living so close to the border, we would go there all the time on the weekends to eat or visit family,” Velasquez said. “It’s very close to my heart, so I definitely want to fight there.”

Perez would almost certainly be a part of that show as well.

“I have a lot of friends who want to come watch UFC, but don’t have a visa or (the means to travel),” he said. “If the UFC comes to my country, it would be very good.”

As for what’s in the immediate future for the two fighters, White said Perez’s next fight will be “meaningful” as far as his standing in the division.

The first title defense of Velasquez’s second reign as champion will most likely be against Alistair Overeem, provided Overeem gets by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in February.

Should Silva win, the division gets very interesting. Silva would be a tough sell as a title challenger, considering Velasquez manhandled him in May.

Another possibility would be to look at a rematch with dos Santos, which is the most logical matchup outside of Overeem.

Dos Santos was beaten up badly over the 25 minutes, however, and it could be some time before he is ready to compete again.

Saturday night’s card actually cleared up the middleweight division, though. Contenders Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch both lost, with Belcher dropping a unanimous decision to Yushin Okami and Boetsch getting knocked out in the third round by Costa Philippou.

Those results opened the door for perennial contender Michael Bisping to finally fight champion Anderson Silva, if Bisping is able to beat Vitor Belfort on Jan. 19 in Brazil.

“If Bisping wins, he gets the shot,” White said.

Chris Weidman is another top middleweight contender, but he is currently injured.

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

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