What's up Maniacs, Harris Masood reporting live from the UFC Fan Expo here on day one in Toronto (April 29, 2011) and if there's one thing I learned on my first day, it's that Canadian fans are serious about mixed martial arts (MMA).
I arrived early to the Expo, before the VIP and the general admission audience. There were eager fans standing right outside the entrance to the center, staring at me with envious eyes as I was allowed past security while many of the Expo booth employees and promotional models were putting the finishing touches on their respective showcase areas.
When 9:00 a.m. hit, throngs of VIP fans came tumbling in and headed straight for the Round 5 booth to buy limited edition Georges St. Pierre figures that are an exclusive for the 2011 Toronto Expo. I saw fans buying up to six at a time, with some fans re-entering the long, winding line to hopefully purchase more figures of Canada's favorite MMA star.
Once it was 10 a.m., a stampede of fans ran towards the Round 5 booth even larger than before, adding to the already massive line that sprawled through the center. Round 5 also had a team of 3D graphics engineers with a face scanner system that they used to computer generate a virtual likeness of the fans' faces.
The booths themselves were a motley bunch of both the familiar and completely new. The Tapout, Silverstar, UFC clothing, RVCA, Jaco, Badboy, Affliction, Xtreme Couture, Ecko, Headrush fan expo staples were present, some doing better jobs of standing out from others. Ecko had a giant wheel where fans would spin it to win prizes. Jaco and Bad Boy had dual level booths with DJ's blasting music.
The UFC store looked like it was ripped right out of a clothing retailer from a mall with some pretty classy glossy wood panels, and it was packed to the brim for the entire day. Supplement companies such as Muscle Pharm, Xyience, and BSN were also at the expo, selling recovery drinks and having their models pass out fliers and luring customers to buy a t-shirt or a protein bar.
THQ was demoing its UFC training game for the Wii and Xbox systems and it actually looked...pretty cool. That didn't stop me from feeling stupid while I tried it out though.
What was interesting to note, however, were how many other types of booths there were. Canadian internet and television service provider Rogers was advertising at the event. Bell was offering cell phone and internet plans at the arena as well. Dodge and Toyo tires had cars at the show, and the Hangover Part 2 had its own booth at the center.
It made me think about marketing companies seeing the MMA demographic as a significant niche where they can draw business from, and this reminded me of how much the sport is growing everyday.
I should mention that the energy level was insanely high throughout the entire day. I've been to other fan expos in the past. The Boston Expo for Edgar vs. Penn 2, for example, paled in comparison to the rarefied energy that permeated throughout the center.
Almost every booth had fighters on rotations for signings, but here in Canada, nearly every booth was packed. Six Flags great adventure on the most beautiful day of the summer packed. New Twilight movie midnight screening packed. Win a date with Arianny packed...well maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but you get the idea.
Ms. Celeste was at the Hayabusa booth taking autographs and pictures with fans. Shandella Powell and Britney Palmer were at their respective booths as well, and, interestingly enough, Palmer's line was much longer than the other girls' of the Octagon. Maybe Canadian fans gravitate more towards Palmer than Arianny? Or is this indicative of a new trend in hotness? I didn't really care, I got to see the both of them in person.
As for the booth girls, the promotional models in Canada were, for the most part, insanely hotter than ones I've seen at other expos. That's not to say there weren't a couple of sloppy ones walking around, but for the most part, the women were drop dead gorgeous. Which got me to thinking: should I do a contest of who the hottest promotional model of the Toronto Fan Expo is? I've got a couple of photos I want to share, so look out for them! (the bodybuilding.com girls were all gorgeous).
Question and answer sessions held on the weigh-in stage were started off by Bruce Buffer, and other sessions by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, and finally, Dana White, occurred every two hours throughout the expo. Buffer excitedly discussed how he pumped himself up for his announcements with fans while Mike and Joe dealt mainly with fight analysis questions. Nearly every question posed to the two announcers had a Jake Shields insult thrown in, which always received a response from the fans.
Dana white received just one question multiple times: "can I get backstage to hang-out with the fighters and/or can you give me tickets?" White also called out Tito's proclivity for pulling out of fights due to seemingly innocuous injuries, saying that Ortiz pulled out of his fight because he had stitches.
After mentioning this, White was quick to say there were fighters on the Ultimate Fighter (TUF) show who fight with stitches. White also made a comment regarding his latest twitter back and-forth regarding Tito, which received a loud response from fans. Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz all were brought up on stage dressed to the nines while holding their championship belts. Fans were able to ask the UFC champs questions for a short period before the weigh ins began.
When it was time for the weigh-ins, the support for each Canadian fighter that took to the stage was deafening, as were the boos for Shields. All fighters made weight without a problem, with the exception of Ben Henderson, who need to cut an additional .5lbs to make the 156-pound limit for his lightweight bout.
As always at the expo, fighters were present and signing autographs. Many of them were booked at different booths and different times of the day, Rashad Evans, for example was at the Muscle Pharm and Popeye's supplements (a Canadian company) booth. Clay Guida was signing at the Dethrone Royalty booth along with Melvin Guillard (who was cracking jokes throughout his signing).
Krystof Soszynski, Miguel Torres, Mark Coleman, Joe Lauzon, Anthony Pettis, Ben Rothwell, Cung Le, and Duane Ludwig were all conversing with fans and signing autographs with the same aforementioned high energy that defined the expo. Pat Barry wasn't even at a booth and was held up in the hallway being mobbed by fans for close to three hours. He kept smiling and just couldn't say no, and kept going.
The Expo itself did die down by 6 p.m. (closing time) but not by much. It was certainly one of the best I've been to and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!
Be sure to check back with us tomorrow for more coverage from the UFC Fan Expo in Toronto!