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Victory increases Silva’s drawing power in UFC

One of the biggest fights in mixed martial arts history also looks like a major boon to Las Vegas.

The mega-event could also prove to be the moment Anderson Silva turned from perhaps the best fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to huge box-office draw and legitimate superstar.

Silva knocked out Chael Sonnen in the second round of Saturday night’s UFC 148 main event to extend his record for consecutive successful middleweight title defenses to 10. But while Silva has been a dominant champion, he hasn’t always been a big drawing card.

All that changed in the buildup to the rematch with Sonnen, who pushed Silva to the limit two years ago and engaged in one of the most over-the-top trash-talking campaigns the organization has ever seen to hype Saturday’s fight.

The event drew a sellout crowd of 15,016 at the MGM Grand Garden for a total live gate of $7 million, the U.S. record for a mixed martial arts card.

“It’s absolutely, 100 percent the biggest fight we’ve ever done,” UFC president Dana White said. “No doubt about it.”

Those visitors were drawn to town for the fights, the UFC Fan Expo at Mandalay Bay and various International Fight Week festivities around the city during what one Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority representative said is a typically slow time in the tourist season.

When the final tally is in, the economic impact on Las Vegas is expected to fall somewhere between $95 million and $140 million, according to the UFC.

The organization also expects a huge boost to its bottom line.

While the UFC does not release information on pay-per-view buys, the largest number is thought to be approximately 1.6 million for UFC 100 in 2009.

White is optimistic that number could be eclipsed.

“We broke every UFC record there was as far as our business goes. Brazil shut down tonight,” he said on Saturday. “Monday, we broke all records for most traffic on UFC.com and then did it again every day the rest of the week. Tuesday’s press conference was the most watched UFC press conference ever by 1.1 million. It’s the biggest gate we’ve ever done in America and everything is trending that this is possibly the biggest pay per view we’ve ever done.”

The business boost for the UFC could continue going forward as Silva propelled himself to another level of stardom with the victory. While Sonnen was doing most of the talking, Silva got in on the act with a conference call rant and two staredown altercations with the challenger. He then went out and did what he usually does in the cage by knocking out Sonnen.

“This fight definitely took Anderson to the next level,” White said.

The question for Silva is what could be next. He is 37 years old, but showing little signs of age. He says he is still motivated by things like participating in Friday’s weigh-in, which drew an astounding 8,000 people.

There are several contenders in the middleweight division, but none are particularly marketable in a title fight at this point.

If Mark Munoz gets by Chris Weidman on Wednesday in San Jose, Calif., he is a logical choice, though Weidman may not be ready for the shot should he win.

Newcomer Hector Lombard is on a long winning streak outside the organization and may get a quick shot at the belt should he defeat Tim Boetsch on July 21. Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher, rumored to be working on a fight against each other, are also potential challengers.

“This was such a big fight with the buildup and everything else, we don’t want to rush anything,” White said. “We’ll sit down and there’s a couple of fights coming up and then we’ll decide who the No. 1 contender is to fight Anderson. I know I’m not thinking about it right now. I guarantee (Silva’s) not thinking about it right now.”

Silva made it clear he’s not interested in a superfight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, though White expressed interest in the fight and reminded reporters that Silva didn’t want to fight Sonnen for the second time, either.

For Sonnen’s part, he still has his sights set on one day capturing the middleweight crown.

“I really believe if you’re going to take up a spot in this company, you’ve got to be chasing a championship. Don’t be there just to be there,” Sonnen said. “I had my chance, then I got it again. I’m grateful for that, but I will not hang around for one day just to blend in. It’s either to be the world champ or move on and do something else.”

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

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