Canadian UFC fighters ready for home-turf bouts

CHRIS DOUCETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:49 PM ET

TORONTO — At first glance, UFC fighters appear to be average, ordinary folks.

Most also seem to be genuinely good guys, who are accessible to their fans, which is a big part of why mixed martial arts has become so wildly popular.

It's not until you see them at work in the octagon that you realize each and every one of them is capable of beating you senseless and making you say "uncle" in a heartbeat. "It's definitely my life right now," says Claude Patrick of Mississauga, Ont., wiping his forehead.

"It's my focus and my career, so I'm putting a lot into it and starting to see the results pay off."

With beads of sweat pouring down his face after a gruelling two-hour workout with one of his trainers, K1 kick-boxing champ Michael McDonald, Patrick recently took time out to talk to QMI Agency at Elite Training Centre in the Toronto's west end.

He's one of three local fighters slated to fight in UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre Apr. 30.

All told, nine Canadians are expected to be in the 11 fights that night — more than any other card in UFC history.

That includes the two main events, which will see fan favourite Georges St. Pierre, of Montreal, put his welterweight title on the line against American Jake Shields and Mark Hominick, from Thamesford, Ont., try to snatch the featherweight title from Brazilian Jose Aldo.

"I feel very fortunate," Patrick said, adding with a smile that many "long lost friends" are suddenly calling looking for tickets.

Patrick, 30, has been part of Canada's mixed martial arts scene for many years, which wasn't easy considering until last summer he lived in a province where the sport was illegal.

The submission specialist was signed by the UFC in 2010 and he has already fought twice, winning both in UFC 115 and 120.

Patrick caught the karate bug at 13. Since then he has added kick-boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu, among others, to his repertoire.

Around the time he started studying martial arts in 1993, Patrick remembers watching a small Brazilian named Royce Gracie use jiujitsu to make much bigger men beg for mercy inside the cage.

He's been hooked ever since.

"I wanted to learn that style," Patrick said. "It seemed to make a lot of sense at the time."

Gracie helped grow MMA into the exciting sport it is today while highlighting flaws in some of the martial arts that were popularized in movies.

Jiujitsu is now a staple for all successful MMA fighters.

Patrick refused to make any predictions for his upcoming bout, but he vowed he'll do his best at UFC 129.

He's scheduled to take on American Daniel Roberts, 30, who has four UFC bouts under his belt, the last three of which he's won.

"He's a highly skilled opponent, like everybody is in the UFC, so I'm looking forward to locking up with him and putting my skills on display against what he brings to the table," Patrick said.

Sean Pierson, who lives just northeast of Toronto in Stouffville, Ont., with his wife and child, didn't hesitate when asked about his second UFC fight.

"I plan on winning," he said confidently, answering questions after a couple hours of honing his boxing skills with one of his coaches, Ryan Grant.

"I hope it doesn't go 15 minutes, that's all I've got to say," Pierson said with a laugh, referring to his first UFC fight last December against Matthew Riddle.

He and the 25-year-old American went the distance — three five-minute rounds — and Pierson ultimately won by unanimous decision.

"Most of my fights have been first-round TKOs and I'd like to keep it that way," he said recalling his earlier MMA fights.

At 34, Pierson is starting his UFC career a little later than most because he chose to take time off to start his family and buy a home.

He quit his job at Dell Computers to focus on fighting full-time after signing with the UFC.

"I didn't want everybody sacrificing for my dream, so I got myself established first," Pierson said.

"After four years, I still had that desire to go back and finish what I started."

Pierson will take on fellow wrestler Brian Foster, 26, an American who is 3-2 in the UFC.

He's "honoured" to be part of UFC 129 and he's well aware of what a privilege it is to have been chosen.

The UFC's director of Canadian operations, Tom Wright, said every fighter on the roster wanted to be on the card at the "historic event."

Pierson said the hometown crowd will help him because he performs best under pressure.

He has trained with some big names over the years, including St. Pierre, and said he always knew his sport would "blow up" one day.

He just hoped it would happen while he was still young enough to participate.

"Everything in the past eight years or so has just snowballed," Pierson said of the UFC and MMA. "It's the fastest-growing sport in the world."


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