LAS VEGAS -- With the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship thundering into the mainstream, Sun Media writer Jose Rodriguez ventures into the heart of fight-hardened Las Vegas for an exclusive look at the surging sport, its appeal and its future.
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It's not that they lack patriotism.
It has nothing to do with the fact they're from Quebec or that they are much bigger stars south of the border than they are in their own country.
Still, you'll have to forgive Canada's top two UFC fighters if they don't drape themselves in the flag for tomorrow night's Canada-U.S. fight card here in the city of poker chips and all-you-can-eat buffets.
"Honestly, I'm very proud of being Canadian but I fight for my fans," says David Loiseau, who will take on American Rich Franklin for the UFC middleweight championship in the main event.
"I've always been fighting for my fans, my trainers and my family and it's always going to be like that. It doesn't matter what the theme of the event is, I'm not going to all of a sudden fight for Canada. I mean, we're not at war here."
Tomorrow night's fight card is more a nod to the ballooning talent in the Great White North than a post-Olympic patriot party.
Every one of the nine fights will feature a Canadian against an American.
"This event is a compliment to Canada because we are so impressed with the level of athletes they've been turning out," says Joe Silva, UFC vice-president of talent relations and the man who sets the fight cards.
"It thrills me to see how much better the fighters are getting and how the sport is growing in Canada."
The U.S.-Canada gimmick is more a marketing hook than a motivation for the fighters and one UFC president Dana White is quick to distance himself from -- saying he was outvoted on the idea by his staff.
The second half of Canada's French Connection, Montreal's Georges St. Pierre, is equally unfazed by the hype.
"I am Canadian and my opponent is from the United States, but like I said to everybody, the night of the fight I'm going to have to be selfish," says St. Pierre.
"It's going to be a man against another man and I don't care about the citizenship. I don't fight for my country, I fight for myself."
Many are calling the St. Pierre fight against Hawaiian star B.J. Penn the most exciting bout on the card, with the winner all but guaranteed a title shot against welterweight world champ Matt Hughes.
But the top prize of the night is Loiseau's for the taking.
The 26-year-old has been training hard twice a day, six days a week for his bout against the 21-1-0 Franklin.
"Fighting for the championship is a dream come true," says Loiseau.
And though he's confident, he is not taking his opponent lightly.
"He's a very good fighter," concedes Loiseau.
"He's a complete fighter. Very solid. But I'm training to be 100 percent on March 4 and I'm gonna win the title."
A Canadian champ in the tough middleweight division and a champ-in-waiting in St. Pierre would go a long way to bolster the already blossoming sport in Canada.
It would also set the stage for a U.S.-Canada II event.
And as much as White dislikes the gimmick, he's not ruling such an event taking place again -- this time with a different home team.
"We definitely want to go to Canada," says White.
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THE BORDER BATTLE
Rich Franklin (U.S.) vs David Loiseau (CAN)
WORLD MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT
Georges St.Pierre (CAN) vs BJ Penn (U.S.)
John Alessio (CAN) vs Diego Sanchez (U.S.)
Joe Doerksen (CAN) vs Nathan Marquardt (U.S.)
Steve Vigneault (CAN) vs Mike Swick (U.S.)
Mark Hominick (CAN) vs Yves Edwards (U.S.)
Sam Stout (CAN) vs Kenny Florian (U.S.)
Rob MacDonald (CAN) vs Jason Lambert (U.S.)
Christophe Midoux (CAN) vs Tom Murphy (U.S.)
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Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 184 lbs.
Overall MMA Record (W-L-D):
Strengths: Powerful puncher, quick strikes and lightning fast elbows.
Marital Status: Single
Inspiration: "I get my inspiration from God. I pray every day. I truly believe that God blessed me with a talent and I'm just doing my best with it."
Favourite song on his iPod: French rap song Art de Rue by Funky Family.
Favourite movie: Bad Boys with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
Hottest starlet: Eva Mendes.
Favourite food: Pasta.
Most impressive fighter in the UFC right now: Georges
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GEORGES ST. PIERRE
Height: 5 ft. 10 ins.
Weight: 170 lbs.
Overall MMA record (W-L-D):
Strengths: Takedowns, ground and pound, strength.
Marital Status: Single.
Inspiration: "Fighting is my job. It's what I love to do."
Favourite song on his iPod: Something reggae, maybe Sean Paul or Beenie Man.
Favourite movie: The Green Mile
Hottest starlet: Serena Williams
Favourite food: Pizza
Most impressive fighter in the UFC right now: Matt Hughes