Trash talk and shoeys: UFC’s obnoxious press conference parody

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Israel Adesanya is on his feet. Black sunglasses, “Amen” cap and Timberland hoodie, flapping a French-manicured finger at Manel Kape, his pinkie bling ring glinting under the stage lights. Kape, also in sunnies, is all up in Adesanya’s grill, swearing and generally carrying on.

The flyweight has already worked the western Sydney crowd into an ungovernable state. “Where is my Lebanese people? Make some noise, my Lebanese people,” he shouts to a receptive roar from both Lebanese and non-Lebanese people. But then he spots Kai Kara-France in the front rows of Qudos Bank Arena and proceeds to harangue him via a number of unprintable words.

UFC fighters Israel Adesanya and Sean Strickland face off ahead of their middleweight fight on Sunday at a sold-out Qudos Bank Arena.Credit: Edwina Pickles

Kape is not even fighting the Kiwi on Sunday’s UFC 293 undercard anymore because the latter withdrew with a concussion, but his tirade has insulted Kara-France’s City Kickboxing teammate Adesanya, and now the pair are being “held back” from jumping each other by a couple of UFC officials wearing such serious, we-mean-business expressions they appear as if, deep down, they are trying not to laugh.

Tai Tuivasa, sitting between them in a bright blue-and-black patterned shirt befitting the local favourite’s Samoan heritage, pretends to cower, and then continues chewing gum with his mouth wide open.

And if you required any further evidence that this is more of a show than any kind of real-life beef, every fighter somehow manages to hold their microphones perfectly to their mouths throughout every spontaneous bout of rage.

This is a UFC press conference, which is unlike any other press conference known to sport. That is partly because it is open to the public, who come in numbers – almost all look under 30. And it is partly because this brand of MMA seems – outside the cage, at least – every bit as choreographed as the showmanship involved in World Wrestling Entertainment (with whom UFC is imminently merging).

A man is cheered at Qudos Bank Arena as he drinks from a shoe, a well-known celebration of local fan favourite, Tai Tuivasa.Credit: Edwina Pickles

In the cage it is highly controversial, defended by proponents as a skilled sport, while critics argue it glorifies violence. In January its president, Dana White, issued a public apology after he was filmed appearing to strike his wife. What cannot be argued is that it is increasingly popular with Australians – tickets for Sunday’s pay-per-view event sold out within 15 minutes.

NSW Premier Chris Minns made a pre-election funding commitment of $16 million and promised Labor would bring three UFC fights to Sydney over four years. This week Minns was forced to defend that outlay after Sean Strickland, who will fight middleweight champion Adesanya in the main event, bragged about punching a fan at Bondi and tweeted homophobic and transphobic comments, along with his assumption Sydney would be filled with “dirty liberals”.

At Wednesday’s media day, the provocative American wore a “Cancel Me” t-shirt as he spoke about women being “the glue to society”, adding that “women don’t need to work, they need to stay home and raise a family”. Minns called the comments “absolutely appalling” but said one fighter “shouldn’t tarnish all UFC fans”.

At Thursday night’s parody of a press conference, Strickland wore a cowboy hat and a man singlet emblazoned with a United States flag and the slogan “For the people, by the people”. The 32-year-old, who has spoken openly about being a former white supremacist, calls Adesanya things like “cringelord” and “f—ing little twinkle toes” and makes race-related remarks about his 34-year-old opponent, who was born in Nigeria, relocated to Ghana, grew up in New Zealand and has spent a number of years living in China.

Adesanya, known as Stylebender, does not believe Strickland will do the “man dance” with him in his first defence of his second title reign, and says “his brain is just a peanut”.

Meanwhile Tuivasa, the western Sydney heavyweight who will face Russian Alexander Volkov in front of a home crowd, picks up his microphone and says “feed meeeeee” as everybody cheers and films him with their phones.

Someone yells “Up the Doggies”. A man in the crowd does a shoey, a favourite Tuivasa victory celebration. Afterwards, groups of young men wrestle each other in the car park and on the street.

On Sunday, a bunch of fighters will go “nose to nose, dick to dick” (according to Strickland). They will take their trash talk into a cage and Minns will have himself one big fat, obnoxious production.

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