Northern California has become a hotbed for mixed martial artists, led by Sacramento's Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes. The central San Joaquin Valley is represented by Oakdale's Michael McDonald and Stockton's Diaz brothers, Nate and Nick, and San Jose has Josh Thomson.
Northern California MMA fans are some of the most passionate, too, a big reason the UFC will return to Sacramento for UFC on Fox 9 on Dec. 14 at Sleep Train Arena. Thomson (20-5, one no-contest) will take on Anthony Pettis (17-2) in the main event. It will be Pettis' first defense of his UFC lightweight championship after beating Benson Henderson in August.
Faber (29-6) and McDonald (16-2) will tangle in a bantamweight bout as the co-main event.
Faber, Mendes, Thomson and McDonald attended a news conference Thursday at the Kings' practice facility to tout the card, along with fellow main-card fighters Pettis, Carlos Condit, Matt Brown and Nik Lentz.
UFC President Dana White was expected to attend the news conference, but he had a scheduling conflict.
Mendes (15-1) will fight Lentz (26-5-2) in the featherweight division. Another local fighter, lightweight Danny Castillo (16-5), will take on Edson Barboza (12-1) in a preliminary bout.
In all, 11 bouts have been jammed onto the card for the first UFC event in Sacramento since 2007, when a sold-out crowd at Arco Arena, as it was known at the time, watched Anderson Silva knock out Nate Marquardt for the UFC middleweight title. Several now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting events have been held there since 2007, but the UFC is the top MMA organization.
"I'm excited," Faber said of his first fight in his hometown under the UFC banner. "I love the crowd here. I need somebody dangerous like (McDonald) to bring out my best game. It's going to be some National Geographic-type of action out there. Two Northern California animals meet in the cage, and only one walks out. I think it's going to be nasty, and I'm looking forward to a fight."
McDonald said he expects fireworks when he steps into the octagon with Faber. He also said he expects friends, family and training partners from his Oakdale MMA club to make the 90-minute drive. It's his first fight, he said, anywhere close to his home.
Thomson, ranked fifth in the lightweight division, leads Team Thomson MMA of San Jose, where he was born and raised. In April, in front of hometown fans, Thomson knocked out Nate Diaz.
Faber said Northern California is the perfect place for MMA fighters and fans.
Said Faber: "All Californians seem like they love to follow their hearts. "
IF YOU GO
What: UFC on Fox 9
When: Dec. 14
Where: Sleep Train Arena
Main event: Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis vs. challenger Josh Thomson
Local angle: Sacramento's Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and Danny Castillo are on the card.
Tickets: Priced from $50 starting at 10 a.m. today at www.ticketmaster.com or at the Sleep Train Arena box office
TV: Main event, 5 p.m., FOX40; undercard, 2 p.m, FS1
Mark Billingsley covers mixed martial arts for The Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.