UFC bustin' down the doors

MIKE RUTSEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

The faithful started lining up outside the theatre at six in the morning, defying the cold and the chill.

Just past 9 a.m., the doors swung open and into the movie theatre rushed the fanatical fans of the MMA to be at the Ultimate Fighting Championship news conference featuring Montreal's Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn, two fighters who will battle Jan. 31 in Las Vegas for the UFC welterweight championship.

Dana White, president of UFC -- and just as big a media star as his fighters -- was front and centre announcing he was about to kick down the doors of the Ontario Athletics Commission, which so far has banned such fights from the province.

The theatre was filled to the brim with adoring fans -- probably not one over the age of 35 -- who hung on every word uttered by St. Pierre and Penn and especially the head guru, White.

"Morning, you crazy f----rs," was White's greeting.

That the media pre-fight conference was in Toronto wasn't happenstance in the least. It marked the lone Canadian stop with another event scheduled for Hawaii, Penn's home state.

It marked, according to White, an acknowledgement of the fan base for the sport in these parts and a launching point from where he intends to put the boots to the powers that be that deny his sport its legitimacy.

"I'm going to move here, I'm going to live here until it's done," White enthused. "I'm going to be sitting on their porch every day.

"There's no reason for Canada (outside of Montreal) not to accept this sport. I don't know how we can be denied. Toronto is like the mecca (of the sport)."

The UFC, the octagon, the mixed martial arts phenomena, remains outside the mainstream of sport but it has moved beyond its niche status as evidenced by its growing sponsorship and pay-per-view audience.

"We've moved beyond that," White said of the niche sport question. "Unlike boxing which drew its participants from the mean streets, these kids started out taking martial arts. This is going to be the biggest sport in the world. It transcends cultural barriers."

The hyperbole aside, White has a point as the UFC is considered to be young, hip, growing and gladiatorial.

The fight between St. Pierre and Penn will be their second -- the first one was in March 2006 with the Canuck pulling out the win.

Both fighters have moved on and up from that point and both are more physically fit and definitely more menacing and dangerous in the octagon.

"I have no strategy, no game plan, I just come in to fight," Penn, who is moving up to a higher weight class, said of his pre-fight plan. "I'll punch him as hard as I can. I'll smash his head as hard as I can."

St. Pierre was nonplussed.

"I always go in expecting the worst but I'll go for the finish right away if I have the opening," he said.

As he continues with his career, St. Pierre, who is 17-2 in MMA bouts, wants more than the victories.

"I want to fight to establish a legacy, to be something even more," he said. "I fix my goals very high."

White, who is part Vince McMahon and part Don King, expects the fight to be the thing of legend.

"This is going to be a sick fight, it's going to be ridiculous," he said enthusiastically. "The guy who walks out will be a superstar."

In the eyes of yesterday's audience, they already are.


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