The art of the staredown

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Generally speaking a fight is decided in the cage, not on the stage at a press conference or at a weigh-in, but a stare down can tell us a lot about a fight:

Nobody can quite remember when staredowns became a major part of the UFC's hype machine. Back in 2001, shortly after Zuffa bought the company, opposing fighters weren’t even required to stand in front of each other after weighing in. Some would shake hands, others would walk off to a neutral corner of the stage before parting for fight night. Most times, the main event fighters would come out first and the proceedings would make their way backwards. It was an event with no focus, no build and no crescendo.

If there was a single turning point, it probably came at UFC 40, when Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock took things to their logical conclusion. Partly because there was a real rivalry, partly because they both understood showmanship, the two created a tension that felt dangerous, like it was about to boil over at any second. They couldn't even wait to get face to face before having words, doing so at the pre-fight press conference. The next night after weighing in, the two faced off with referee John McCarthy between them. Ortiz, bouncing on the balls of his feet, jawed at Shamrock, who waited a few seconds before lurching forward. McCarthy intercepted him before he could get to Ortiz, but the moment was electric, helping the promotion double their usual pay-per-view buyrate and do a record box-office gate.

After all this time, the moment when fighters square off for the first time still holds the same appeal. After days of cutting calories and water, they are tired and on edge, and a single gesture can ignite the powder keg. The official function of the event may be to weigh in, but the real attraction is the staredown.

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