The Las Vegas, Nevada Convention Center set things off July 8-10 for the UFC Fan Expo, one of the featured events of UFC's International Fight Week. The annual event which started in 2012, described by the UFC as "the ultimate week-long experience for UFC fans." It celebrates amateur and pro combat sports alike through social events and competitions to recognize the fans and supporters of combat sports.
Proof of that can be found at UFC Fan Expo, where the UFC's top names show up each year to return some love to the casual, hardcore and curious fans who buy their pay-per-view fights and support their events around the world. As a fan myself, this would be my first expo experience. So I was excited to see what they had to offer and I can't say I was disappointed.
The UFC provides an overwhelming fan experience with several opportunities to meet the stars of the sport for autographs and photos, watch live interviews with legends of the octagon and kick and punch your way through a UFC Gym Striking Challenge.
Sponsors and exhibitors are also on hand to enhance the show with well built-out booths and displays, along with multiple meet and greet sessions with some of the UFC's finest.
Of course, no true fan would want to leave empty handed. So souvenirs, gifts and gear are made available at a massive UFC Store.
If all if this wasn't enough, a martial arts tournament runs concurrently with the EXPO with admission free to attendees. Multiple disciplines were represented including, judo, taekwondo, kick-boxing, wrestling, jujitsu, karate and cage MMA. Participants ranged from kids to seniors with formal medal presentations and rankings at stake with the different sponsor organizations.
After spending only a couple of hours at the expo, I was experiencing full combat fan sensory overload. There seemed to be something going on everywhere you turned and for a fanatic, it was a bit overwhelming. My suggestion to first time attendees. Pace yourself. This is a three day event. Plan ahead and prioritize who you want to see and where they will be, so you can get a good spot in line ahead of time. As example, Nate Diaz was scheduled to appear at 2:30p.m. on the second day and a long line began forming at 11:30a.m. Those who were unaware of the presence of Uriah Faber at the metroPCS booth had to scramble to join a massive line that seemed to form in seconds.
It was a bit comical to see grown men and women wide-eyed and alert for the next attraction like kids walking through an amusement park. But I understood because I was one of them. If you go next year, pack light, where comfortable shoes, buy water at the event and enjoy your time. I know I did.
The growth of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) over the last 30 years has been nothing short of phenomenal. What began as an 'in the closet' bare knuckles tough guy contest in 1993, has evolved into one of the premiere sporting attractions in America. UFC 200 at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada marked another significant milestone in the organization's history. They celebrated by putting together a fight card that had fans salivating for months with every announced match addition.
Heading into the big date, promotion for the event seemed to be running on all cylinders. Among the storylines was the return of mountain-man, Brock Lesnar. A WWE megastar and former UFC fighter who was returning to the cage after a 5-year hiatus. Brock brings with him a massive fan base of wrestling fans and casual UFC fans who would might be interested to see how much pain he could inflict on another man. Fight veteran Miesha Tate would be making her first title defense after upsetting Holly Holms to win the women's bantamweight belt at UFC 196. Frankie Edgar was riding into an interim-championship fight at 145 on a five-fight winning streak against future Hall of Famer, Jose Aldo who after remaining undefeated for 10 years, was obliterated in 13-seconds in his last fight by Connor McGregor, the current titleholder. The winner gets to fight McGregor for the undisputed champion title later this year. Finally, what was supposed to be the culminating main event grudge match between former light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones who lost his belt due to out of the cage personal issues and current title holder, Daniel Cormier who has run through all challengers since taking the belt a year ago, but still has the stain of his only loss against Jones on his record.
UFC 200 was supposed to settle the score. That is until Jones tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was summarily removed from the event with 2 days before the start.
With Jones already having a checkered past for his behavior out of the cage, and now facing sanctions by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, his future in the sport isn't clear. So who rides in to save the day? 41-year old, UFC middle-weight legend, Andersen Silva who agreed to fight the heavier Daniel Cormier on two-days notice. While MMA fans voiced tepid approval of the last second Hail Mary by UFC brass. It was still a bit of a let down after all of the hype and bad blood between Cormier and Jones. The irony here was that Silva himself returned from a one-year suspension earlier this year for failed drug tests in relation to his fight against Nate Diaz at UFC 183.
After a masterful, last minute promotion about-face by the UFC. The UFC 200 stage was set for Saturday. I kept checking around Vegas to see what remnants of the Jon Jones promotion still remained but it was like he was wiped from the face of the promotion earth. His name appeared on nothing. No T-Shirts, no cups, no mugs, no posters. Gone.
The T-Mobile Arena which opened in April of this year, is a great venue. It solves a big problem you generally have with a sporting event like MMA or boxing at a big stadium or concert center. The size of where the action is taking place. The UFC octagon is 30 feet across, as opposed to an NFL field, NBA court or major concert which can support a wider viewing area. Usually you'll find one large screen over the action or a couple spread strategically about that provide a closer view of the attraction. But, the T-Mobile arena tackles this issue by stationing viewing screens in a circular layout around the arena. Now the good thing with this (and it's a really good thing), is that you miss none of the action. Everyone gets a front row seat. The bad thing is that if you happened to be seated near one of these screens. It's hard to not watch the big screen. Which means you find yourself wondering at some point why didn't you just watch it at home.
This all fades away though when you feel the energy of the crowd, the thumping of the chosen walk-in music by the competitors and the infectious chants that roll through the building. Yeah, it's time!
One of the reasons UFC 200 was such a special event was the celebration of the growth of the sport. UFC is the fastest growing sport in the world. It has beaten doubters, politicians, lawmakers, and every other roadblock that's been placed in its path while holding up a gold belt overhead to mark each win. The UFC is on a winning streak and from the looks of things, they'll be hard to beat.
GLOBAL REACH OF UFC 200 CARD
•There are six (6) countries represented on the UFC 200 card - USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands and Japan
UFC 100 TO NOW
•34 new champions crowned between UFC 100 and UFC 200
•At UFC 100, there was no featherweight, bantamweight, flyweight or women's divisions
•At UFC 200, there are now 10 divisions (eight men, two women)
•Notable athletes who had not debuted professionally when UFC 100 took place: Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, T.J. Dillashaw, Ronda Rousey, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk
UFC 200 RESULTS:
About the Author:
Darryl Keeton is an avid striking, grappling and wrestling fan living in Upper Marlboro, MD. He holds a black belt in Taekwondo and is also a practitioner of Combat Jujutsu, Boxing and Muay Thai.