The UFC is in search of some new stars. It might have one right under its nose.
Bobby Green beat Josh Thomson on Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Brown by split decision. Many people, maybe even most, thought Thomson should have gotten the nod.
But what Green did was more important than winning. He entertained. He talked. He laughed. He mugged. He shoulder rolled and held his fingers together, telling Thomson that he missed by that much.
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Some people ate it up. The judges certainly didn’t mind. Others absolutely hated it. Either way, those watching FOX on Saturday night ended up feeling some kind of way about Green. He elicited a reaction. And when you’re in combat sports, that can be everything. Just ask Ronda Rousey.
The only reason I took the fight is to give my brother that honor, to put him on the front stage and say he was a good kid.
Green has every characteristic to be a draw for the UFC. He’s charismatic, engaging, intelligent and has an exciting, unorthodox style of fighting. He’s also now the sixth-ranked UFC lightweight contender and has only big matchups ahead of him. The UFC must market him correctly. Green, 27, needs to be in front of the camera, and he needs to tell his story.
As soon as the Inland Empire, Calif., native took the microphone in the post-fight news conference, he was engaging. Green’s brother, Mitchell Davis Jr., was shot and killed in May, and one of the reasons Green filled in to fight Thomson on fewer than two weeks’ notice is because he wanted to spread the word that Davis Jr., 23, was not in a gang, as media reports had said.
"The only reason I took the fight is to give my brother that honor, to put him on the front stage and say he was a good kid,” Green said. “He was a great guy. He was my closest soldier to me – my little, my baby brother. When I go home, he was the first person I was going to see. It’s been very hard to deal with it and deal with that pain. I haven’t had time to really sit back and think about it.”
None of how Green is in front of a mic is an act. He does what he does for the fans. This is a guy who attempted — and pulled off — a WWE-style hurricanrana maneuver during a freestyle wrestling match just because he could. Green is an entertainer — he gets it.
Green wore a hoodie with his brother’s name on it to the Octagon on Saturday night.
I drove to Redlands, Calif., from Los Angeles earlier this month to interview Green for a story I wrote for FOX Sports about his life. I picked him up from his Pinnacle MMA gym in my rental car one evening, and we drove to one of his favorite dinner spots.
Redlands isn’t a big place, so once we entered Boomshakalaka, inside of a bowling alley, everyone knew Green. But it wasn’t like the local celebrity stopped by. It was like their best friend just came in. Green asked the staff about their lives and families. He joked around with them. His care was genuine and vice versa. (And also, though my expectations were low considering the venue, the food at Boomshakalaka was excellent.)
Green is introspective and engaging. This is the Green the UFC needs to show the world. He is incredibly relatable. Green estimates that he spent time in around 50 homes as a foster kid. He’s seen the worst. He has been abused. He has witnessed unspeakable horror. He’s been to jail.
Green’s story of perseverance is incredibly moving. He can be an inspiration to many, and he is ready and willing to be a role model. This is an athlete who takes time out to visit children at Ronald McDonald House and gives boxes of gear from his sponsors to kids at his gym.
There’s also the matter of his ability. Green has trained seriously for only about four years. The majority of his early fights were before he came to Jake Benhey’s Pinnacle gym, before he had real knowledge in striking or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Green is nowhere near a finished product — not even close. This probably isn’t even his prime.
The fact that Green beat Thomson (controversy or not) is amazing in itself. Between the murder of Davis Jr., the rehabbing of a badly broken ankle, the birth of his daughter Isabella and the death threats he received after his brother’s death, Green was about "75 to 80 percent," Benhey told me last week. He was sleeping maybe one to two hours per night.
"The chips are not stacked in our favor," the coach said. "But I will tell you one thing. If anyone can do it, it’s Bobby."
Green did it. He’s overcome much more difficult than that. And now it’s time for his star turn.