They throw hard punches, wild kicks, bleed from the temples and talk a lot of trash, but the UFC is a class act as both a form of entertainment and a professional business. At the UFC 152 press conference yesterday at Massey Hall in downtown Toronto (which was open to the public), we the media and the fans were treated to a very interactive opportunity to talk, meet and greet with the upcoming fighters.
Tom Wright, the Director of Operations for the UFC in Canada opened the floor to flyweights Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez, along with middleweights Brian Stann and Michael Bisping. Canadian Rory MacDonald was without his welterweight competitor B.J Penn, whom Wright said could not participate in the days events because of personal family reasons. After forty minutes of questions from the crowd (including several of my own) and some good jokes and call-outs from the fighters the press conference ended and it seemed like a good day. That is, until the fighters came down from the stage and mingled with the guests for an extra half an hour. From autograph signings to picture taking to one-on-one interviews, each fighter graciously accommodated to the less than a hundred crowd. They were just normal guys; joking with fans, talking about movies, reading their tweets... it was great to see how casual and cool they felt around the everyone. It's times like these where I enjoy interacting with athletes; they're not overly full of themselves, they don't ignore you or try to give you silly answers, they just want to spread the word that the UFC is a great organization and they're down to prove it by being themselves and showcasing their talents.
Rory and Brian, both impeccably dressed, made it clear to me that they didn't have stylists but rather enjoy dressing up and looking good on their own. I asked Demetrious 'Mighty' Mouse' what his relationship was like with Joseph outside of the octagon and he said they're good friends and they enjoy each others' company. They even went milkshake hunting in Australia in the wee hours of the morning one time and when Joseph overheard him telling the story he yelled out "That's my guy!".
I bumped into my friends 'Showdown' Joe Ferraro, host of UFC Live on Sportsnet and his producer Jim Cotton, and it was great times seeing them again! They gave me a tip on where the fighters were headed to next, and despite not realizing my ineligibility to be part of the exclusive lunch, I found myself at the Real Sports bar by the Air Canada Centre rubbing shoulders with Bisping and Rory. I didn't stay too long as I soon noticed it was invite-only, but boy was it a great experience to chat with some of the best fighters in the world. Once again, I am very impressed by the way these guys act around everyone else; they don't act like they're significantly more important nor do they demand demand demand.
I always knew mixed martial arts was a tough business, but being in the public eye is too. Being asked the same questions over again and not getting upset by some of the dauntingly annoying media can't be easy. I commend all UFC fighters and the UFC organization for upholding such high standards in and out of the octagon. Stay tuned I'll be posting my interviews with Mighty Mouse and Rory soon!!! Extremely looking forward to UFC 152 on September 22nd... got my tickets already... do you have yours?