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UFC 188

Altitude affected fighters at UFC 188, says Dana White

By Daniel Austin, Calgary Sun

UFC president Dana White, pictured here in a March 2013 file photo, said fighters fought the high altitude at UFC 188 in Mexico City. (QMI Agency)

UFC president Dana White, pictured here in a March 2013 file photo, said fighters fought the high altitude at UFC 188 in Mexico City. (QMI Agency)

MEXICO CITY - 

For a second, imagine that Saturday night's UFC 188 had taken place anywhere other than Mexico City.

Pretend the card had played out somewhere like, say, Charleston, N.C., instead of the Mexican capital, which sits at 2,250-metres above sea level. At that altitude, an athlete's body functions differently.

World-class athletes with the cardiovascular system to go for days are suddenly left gasping for air. Fighters who trained to go for four or five rounds can struggle to get through two.

Fatigue was an issue on Saturday night for some of the most competitive athletes on the UFC's roster, so it's hard to wonder whether things might have gone differently in another city.

“Mexico City is tough,” UFC president Dana White said. “People think Denver, Colo., is a tough place to fight, but I think we broke the record tonight in the back for guys puking. Six guys threw up after the fights.

“The altitude kills you here.”

Exhaustion clearly was a factor throughout the evening, but it was most pronounced in the final two fights.

Knowing he needed to win the third round to earn a decision, lightweight contender Gilbert Melendez declined to try to go for the kill against Eddie Alvarez in the co-main event. Alvarez had bounced back from some early struggles, but by midway through the third often was dropping his hands low.

Melendez, though, simply did not have the energy to go for it.

In the main event, the different training approaches of Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez seemed to play a major part in the Brazilian's ascent to the heavyweight throne.

Werdum arrived in Mexico more than six weeks before the fight and set up his training camp in a mountainous area where the elevation was even higher than in Mexico City.

Velasquez, on the other hand, arrived much later. Despite his reputation for world-class cardio, he looked exhausted by midway through the second round, just as Werdum was starting to find his feet.

“Maybe that wasn't enough,” Velasquez said of arriving two weeks before the fight. “No excuses. Fabricio was the better guy tonight. He fought with great technique. Very relaxed.”

To Velasquez's credit, he didn't blame the altitude for his disappointing performance, but it was striking to see him gas-out so soon.

Teammates Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier both insisted before the fight that Velasquez was in the best shape they'd ever seen, but he certainly didn't look that way when the octagon door was locked and the fight kicked off.

GASTELUM STAYING PUT

Kelvin Gastelum's impressive second-round TKO of Nate Marquardt wasn't enough to earn him another shot at fighting at 170 pounds.

Gastelum was forced by White to fight at 185 pounds due to repeated weight-cutting issues, and was hoping a strong performance would change the UFC president's mind and allow him to return to welterweight.

The 23-year-old looked good, but it wasn't enough.

“He's done nothing to prove he can make 170 pounds,” White said at Saturday night's post-fight press conference. “And when he does make 170 pounds, a) it's dangerous, and b) it screws a lot of things up around here. He's going to have to get serious and get a nutritionist. He had to cut to make 185 and came in right now the nose.

“I am the furthest from confident that he is capable of making 170.”

AROUND THE OCTAGON

A strong performance on Saturday night might have been enough to earn Henry Cejudo a shot at the flyweight belt, right? Well, despite picking up the decision against Chico Camus, Cejudo wasn't fooling himself about his performance. When asked if he'd done enough, Cejudo replied: “Hahaha, no.” … There were scatterings of boos throughout Saturday night's fight card, but White wasn't bothered. I called the Mexican crowd “educated” and said “I didn't f---ing disagree with one boo.”

daniel.austin@sunmedia.ca

@SUNDannyAustin

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