Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino and recently acquired starting pitcher Cliff Lee have something in common other than a shared desire to get to the World Series.
"I hear Cliff's a big fan [of mixed martial arts]," said Victorino, who dropped by the Loew's Philadelphia Hotel early yesterday afternoon to look in on workouts of some of the fighters in Saturday night's UFC 101 card at the Wachovia Center. "I know we're going to get along real well."
However big a fan of mixed martial arts Lee is, the former Cleveland Indians ace probably takes a backseat in that department to Victorino, whose fiancee, Melissa Smith, is a former assistant to UFC chief executive officer Lorenzo Fertitta. Victorino said he's been intrigued by MMA since "before it was a sport," and he is a friend of Fertitta, UFC president Dana White and UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn, who, like Victorino, is a native of Hawaii.
White helped boost a Twitter campaign for Victorino when he was a public at-large candidate for the final spot on the National League All-Star team. It must have helped as Victorino made the squad in the fan balloting.
"I go on all the Web sites every day, checking on all the latest news," Victorino said of his MMA habit.
Not that Victorino and Lee are alone in their interest in mixed martial arts. To hear Victorino tell it, the Phillies' clubhouse is a veritable hotbed of MMA devotees.
"There's a lot more guys than you'd think," he confided. "Jayson Werth holds some small fights in his home city [Springfield, Ill.]. Raul Ibanez does some MMA training in the offseason, for cardiovascular stuff. [Ryan] Howard's into it. Jimmy [Rollins] likes it. Scott Eyre's a big fan. You can keep going down the list."
When Anderson "The Spider" Silva and the fellow revelers in his party samba into a room, any room, it's almost like being in Rio de Janeiro for the carnival. Preparing for an MMA bout, in this case Silva's light-heavyweight showdown with the formidable Forrest Griffin, might be serious business, but these cheerful Brazilians go about their work with smiles and giggles.
"I always have a good time," Silva, who speaks only Portuguese, said through an interpreter. "I'm always relaxed when I fight."
Makes you wonder why so many of his opponents enter the octagon as fearful as death-row prisoners on their way to their execution.
"Guys who fight Anderson Silva, they get frustrated because they can't hit him," said Griffin, the former UFC light-heavyweight champion. "He's so quick, so talented. By the second round, you're looking for a way out."
Griffin (16-5) said Silva (24-4) - one of MMA's true legends - is so intimidating, despite his normally gregarious nature, that more than a few foes almost are hesitant to engage him. Hey, he might actually get mad if someone hits him.
"He's got that aura," said Griffin, who is the underdog despite the fact Silva, the UFC middleweight champion, is moving up to light-heavyweight. "At one point, Chuck Liddell had it. But you have to beat me in a fight. You can't beat me with your aura.
"In this situation, I'm brave. I don't have so much to lose. Maybe I'll beat up Anderson Silva. There's a big upside to it. Somebody's got to beat him sooner or later, you know?"
Kenny Florian (13-3), who challenges UFC lightweight titlist BJ Penn (13-5-1), will be making his second bid at a title. On Oct. 14, 2006, in UFC 64, Florian lost a unanimous, five-round decision to Sean Sherk for the vacant UFC lightweight crown. It was only the eighth MMA bout for the native of Westwood, Mass.
"I wasn't ready [to fight for a title]," Florian recalled of the loss. "Seven fights into your career, that's a lot of ask of a fighter. I wasn't able to take advantage of that opportunity.