I thought that the first day of the UFC 129 fan expo in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, had a large turnout. But the number of fans today (April 30, 2011) dwarfed the number of people that arrived yesterday.
From the opening of the event, fans were lining up outside and began pouring in. I felt bad for the security guards who did their best to handle the mayhem as best as they could.
There was no way to quickly differentiate VIP fans from exhibitioners, to regular priced fans, and I’m sure many people skipped the lines that were formed and were able to slip through the cracks. There was an immediate big "rush" to the Round 5 booth again where fans snatched up the last 100 or so limited edition Georges St. Pierre collectibles within the first hour of the expo.
Also at the Round 5 booth was Shannon Lee, the daughter of the one and only Bruce Lee, to attract attention to the line of Bruce Lee collectibles Round 5 will be releasing later this year. Shannon interacted with fans of the expo and discussed her father’s legacy with them, along with the progress the UFC has made in growing the sport of MMA.
Duane Ludwig stopped by the Round 5 booth and apparently he is a huge fan of the collectibles. "Bang" was a really cool guy and I saw him for a bit yesterday, too. He was one of the few fighters who remembered my name and I felt totally comfortable conversing with him.
Another fighter to show up was Eddie Wineland, who interacted with fans and had his face scanned at the 3-D rendering station I wrote about yesterday. I spoke with Wineland about his fight with Urijah Faber and how his training was coming along.
He’s without injury and waiting for a call regarding his next opponent. He was really generous with his time and had a laid back attitude. After speaking with Wineland and Ludwig, it made me think about how fortunate I am to be a fan of MMA at this point in its history.
If the sport grows to the extent that Dana White wants it to (and all MMA fans want to as well) I am going to look back at the days where I was able to have prolonged conversations with humble, star athletic talent.
Although Ludwig and Wineland are not as known as Liddell, or Couture, or GSP, the fact that I’m able to talk about Bruce Lee, or the sport of MMA in general in such a candid way with these guys, made me really value my time at the expo.
It was way better than any pre-fight interviews I’ve done in the past.
At one point, I was looking for a bathroom and found myself in a near empty, extremely clean one. I did my business, walked out of the stall and saw Bruce Buffer prepping himself in the mirror. We gave each other a smile and a nod, and as I was about to walk out, Liddell walks in and saunters to a urinal and pees.
I’m standing between Buffer and Liddell and am wondering how fans weren’t mobbing these guys. Ben Rothwell could barely get a break signing autographs, and Chuck and the Buff are strolling around hassle free?
When I walked out the bathroom, an angry Desi security guard dashed toward me and in a stern voice told me I was in a VIP bathroom and I couldn’t use it. I asked him I would have a hard time getting my piss back from the toilet and he just stared at me angrily until I walked away.
I don’t blame him for doing his job, but the way he scolded me rubbed me the wrong way. I was in bad spirits for a little while because of this, but felt much better when I saw the newly clothed booth girls walking around.
The Xyience girls were especially hot today, it must have been the black get-ups they were popping out of. Edith Labelle was at the expo again, looking just as smoking hot as she was yesterday. Arianny and Palmer had the longest lines in the building, and Brittney again today had a longer line, not by much, but it was still noticeable.
Fans today didn’t get as much of a treat because Palmer was wearing, basically, a business suit. She looked more like she was signing checks at a bank than autographs at a fan expo. The lines were generally much longer today than yesterday, it looked like double the amount of people came today, and simply walking through the expo center was a feat in of itself.
There were a few fitness challenge exhibition booths. The most notable one was an all woman’s fitness group that held dead-lifting and calisthenic competitions for women to compete in. They also performed pull ups and Olympic-style ring lifts.
They were lean and many of them could lift way more than I could. I left before my manhood was completely destroyed.
Another Canadian kickboxing school invited fans to come on its mats and try some pad work with its students and instructors. The exhibition took up a good chunk of the floor -- there was at least room for seven or eight people to train simultaneously.
Hayabusa also had a punching power and speed contest rig set up, and fans hung out there after waiting for their autographs with Arianny. I decided to take a closer look at the clothing line booths and noticed a new trend occurring in many of the mma clothing apparel lines.
I first caught wind of it when I saw the Traumma brand, where I spoke with Sara Rex, the CEO of the company. I wanted to get a closer picture of Jon Fitch signing autographs, and she let me bypass the line. I got to talking with Sara, and I noticed that the line of clothes Traumma was displaying, the majority of the designs weren’t restricted to just "mma gear."
In other words, you wouldn’t look like a douchebag for wearing the shirt out in public is what I’m trying to say.
Other clothing companies are following this trend. Tokyo Five and RVCA were kind of the first MMA-affiliated companies that really focused on good designs, rather than trying to cater to some type of "hardcore" audience.
Several of Silverstar and Dethrone Royalty’s new designs, for example, are a bit more understated and minimalist. They still have their more hardcore designs, but the companies seem to be branching out and maturing.
Again, it got me to thinking about how MMA as a sport is evolving.
The same round of fighters were signing autographs today at their respective booths, many of them doing booth hopping all throughout the day. All the fighters who were present yesterday were available today and signing autographs, although, Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch and Gilbert Melendez were all new faces to me at the expo.
In general, Canadian fans seemed to be very grateful and respectful toward all of the UFC fighters. Again, compared to my Boston experience, I can recall a time where a fan asked Kyle Noke whether or not he was a fighter so he could get an autograph.
One fan mistook a friend of mine as Johny Hendricks (my friend is NOT Johny Hendricks) at the Boston expo. Noke, here in Toronto, had dozens of people lined up for his autograph at a time.
After being to the expo, there’s one thing that’s certain, the UFC doesn’t have to worry about selling out events anywhere in Toronto.
This city is fight crazy.