LAS VEGAS -- You'd think standing at the entrance to the Mandalay Bay Events Centre while wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey, Brent Bolig might feel a bit like a cat at a dog show.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The 24-year-old Calgarian may be in enemy territory for tonight's Ultimate Fighting Championship's Canada vs. U.S. event but he's not alone.
There may not be as many Maple Leafs as Stars and Stripes among the nearly 12,000 fans set to take in the border battle but the Canucks who made the trip to the Strip are far from invisible.
"I'm here for GSP," said Bolig, referring to Canada's top UFC welterweight Georges St. Pierre, who takes on Hawaiian B.J. Penn in one of the featured fights of the night.
In the other main event, Montrealer David Loiseau faces off in a UFC middleweight championship bout against title-holder Rich Franklin.
Both Loiseau and St. Pierre had their fight faces on for yesterday's weigh-in, with St. Pierre receiving the most thunderous applause of any fighter.
Loiseau, the owner of highlight-reel elbow strikes, is a Vegas underdog to take the belt from Franklin but oddsmakers were pitting the St. Pierre-Penn fight at near even with a slight edge for St. Pierre.
Regardless of the Vegas line, Canada and its up-and-coming crop of young fighters will be the real winners, said Jeff Meszaros, a training partner of Winnipeg's Joe Doerksen who will take on Nathan Marquardt.
"Canada is the underdog in a lot of these fights," said Meszaros.
"But we're a country of tough people and the fact they could fill a whole fight card with only Canada and U.S. fighters says a lot."
Fellow Manitoban Ryan Grimard, of
St. Anne, says he's been waiting for years for the opportunity to see a UFC fight live.
"My wife and I have always talked about coming to see a fight," said Grimard.
"When I saw they were going to have a Canada vs. U.S. bout, we had to come."
But not all Canadians at the event are veteran fight fans.
Bolig's mother and sister made the trip with him.
"I just wanted to see what they're so into," said mom Brenda.
"I'm a little scared of what I'll see."
Brent is selfishly hopeful the sport, which has grown by leaps and highkicks over the past year, fails to catch on with the mainstream and remains a niche treat for its predominantly young and male followers.
"Right now, it's like a great little secret," says Brent.
"I hope that doesn't change."
In some last-minute fight card changes, Ultimate Fighter reality-show winner Diego Sanchez withdrew earlier in the week due to a virus, leaving his Canadian opponent John Alessio without a dance partner.
An injury forced Kenny Florian to pull out of his fight against Canadian Sam Stout.
Spencer Fisher will take Florian's place in the lightweight bout.
And Canadian Christophe Midoux was a last-minute scratch yesterday due to injury.
Fellow Canadian Icho Larenas will take his place against Tom Murphy in the heavyweight tilt.