By B.J. Koubaroulis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; D08
After his Ultimate Fight Night 20 decision victory over Brad Blackburn on Monday night, welterweight Amir Sadollah stood at the center of the octagon with UFC television commentator Joe Rogan holding a microphone to his face.
With his right eye bloodied and a knot swelling on the bridge of his nose, Sadollah ignored Rogan's first question and looked to the crowd, which erupted in approval.
"It was the first time in my life that I had a crowd chanting my name," said Sadollah. "The crowd was unbelievable."
Sadollah, a magnetic 29-year-old from Richmond who won the seventh season of Spike TV's reality series "The Ultimate Fighter," added to the fame that has come with his six-figure contract by burying a series of third-round high-knees into a wobbly Blackburn's face.
The first UFC event in Virginia's history, the card drew 8,500 at Patriot Center in Fairfax.
For the first four minutes, Blackburn neutralized Sadollah's muay thai by keeping him at bay with his strikes, but Sadollah adapted and landed a flurry of punches that dropped Blackburn with 40 seconds left in the first round. He also landed a vicious straight kick that opened Blackburn's face. Midway through the second round, Sadollah avoided Blackburn's tie-ups and landed a solid elbow. He closed the round with a strong uppercut before destroying Blackburn with the match-clinching high-knees at the start of the third round. He closed out the fight by riding Blackburn.
Sadollah entered the contest with 22 fewer fights than Blackburn (15-10-1, 3-1 UFC) and was a heavy underdog -- a trait that made the former surgical technician a fan favorite both on the reality show and during Monday night's fight.
The card was headlined by a rematch of lightweight Nate Diaz's (8-0) TUF5 victory over "Bully" Gray Maynard (10-5). Diaz opened Maynard's left eye early as the two traded both punches and words in a tactical two-round stand-up before Maynard landed a vicious knee that dropped Diaz and then a mean right hook that sent him back-pedaling. Diaz had a strong third round, but it wasn't enough to overcome the early damage that earned Maynard a split decision and improved his record to 11-5.
UFC President Dana White said he plans to bring a pay-per-view event to the area in less than two years.
"I'm very happy with a sellout on a Monday night in this economy," said White. "We'll come back. We came in and tested the waters and it's very good."
According to the UFC, the event earned a $730,000 gate, which organizers said is $50,000 more than any other event in Fight Night history.
Because of the way the 10,000-seat Patriot Center was configured, only 8,500 seats were available and the venue was sold out well in advance of Monday night's card.
Even with a weeknight sellout, many believe that the area isn't ready to embrace White's enterprise -- a booming sport that is working to supplant boxing as the mainstream's choice of battle sport.
Marcello Foran, a Maryland native and fight promoter who brought several cards to Patriot Center over the past two years, helped clear a path for MMA in Washington as his handful of cards built the popularity of several Lloyd Irvin fighters like Mike Easton -- an Anacostia native who became Foran's main attraction.
But Foran left the area after he claimed the Virginia State Athletic Commission botched the decision in Easton's victory over former World Extreme Cagefighting star Chase Beebe. Foran cited a lack of support from local MMA schools and media as other reasons that his promotion wouldn't return to Virginia.
Luke Thomas, editor of a popular MMA Web site called http://Bloodyelbow.com, believes that if the UFC can "massage the audience here over time and return with regularity" that UFC could catch part of the D.C. sports and entertainment market and eventually draw a crowd that would fill Verizon Center, a move that "would cement them as a viable sports product and D.C. as fertile MMA soil."