PICKERING — The UFC has finally come to town and fight fever is gripping the GTA.
With the countdown underway to the biggest mixed martial arts show ever — Saturday night at the Rogers Centre — more than 50 guest fighters are out and about meeting their fans this week.
And two of the UFC’s top welterweights, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, were among the first to get up close and personal with fans as they posed for photos and signed autographs at National Sports on Hwy. 2 Tuesday.
“I love the UFC,” James Parker, of Pickering said as he and his son, Connor, waited in line to meet the two fighters.
“It’s just so exciting, it gets your adrenaline going,” the Pickering man said, adding he’ll be at the Rogers Centre for UFC 129.
Connor, 12, said he likes all UFC fighters, but if he had to pick a favourite it would be Montreal’s George St.-Pierre.
GSP will put his welterweight belt on the line against Jake Shields in front of a record-setting crowd in Toronto.
Connors dad loves St.-Pierre, but he also really likes Koscheck.
“Every sport needs a bad guy and he plays it to perfection,” Parker said.
Luke Cormier, of Pickering, is also a big fan.
“I definitely like Koscheck,” said the 23-year-old, who will also take in the show live. “I like the trash talk.”
Becky Desilva, 21, met the fighters with her sister Erica, 17, at her side.
“We love them,” the Pickering woman said of Fitch and Koscheck, neither of whom are fighting Saturday. “And they’re really cool in person.”
Becky bought her younger sister a UFC 129 ticket for her birthday, so they’ll both be at the Rogers Centre.
After meeting the fighters and planting kisses on their cheeks, Becky said Koscheck’s bay boy image has some cracks in it.
“He’s actually nice in person,” she said.
Koscheck further damaged his bad boy persona when he surprised a lucky fan with two UFC 129 tickets.
A shocked Mika Halinen, 26, of Toronto, said he hadn’t been much of a Koscheck fan before, but he was reconsidering that as he held the tickets in disbelief.
Koscheck said he gave the young man the tickets because he was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his sponsor, Dethrone.
“I gotta do what I gotta do to make money,” he said. “And if it’s be a jerk sometimes, then I’ll take that, I’ll cross that line and be that.
“But pretty much I’m a normal dude just trying to make a living,” Koscheck said.
The facial injuries he suffered in December when he lost to GSP in Montreal have mostly healed and fans will be happy to know he recently began training again.
He’s hoping to return to the octagon this fall against “whoever the No.1 contender is at the time.”
“I don’t want a cake-walk when I come back,” Koscheck said. “I want the toughest guy they have.”
As Koscheck puts his injury behind him, Fitch’s road to recovery is just beginning.
A shoulder injury forced him to pull out of his much anticipated re-match with B.J. Penn, who he fought to a draw in Australia in February.
Penn now is dealing with an injury as well, but Fitch said he’s hopeful they can still square off again some day.
Meanwhile, he’s happy for the chance to meet fans this week.
“I’ve been out of touch a little bit lately dealing with my shoulder, so it’s nice to get out, to get away and to watch some fights,” Fitch said.
Unlike Koscheck, who claims to have no interest in sticking around town to watch UFC 129, Fitch said he can’t wait.
But it’s not the fights he’s most excited about.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the crowd,” Fitch said, adding he’s fought in front of 25,000 people before so he has some idea of what to expect.
“To see 55,000 people at the Rogers Centre is going to be pretty amazing,” he said of the historical show. “I’m very jealous of these guys getting to fight … in front of so many fans.”