Monday, 24 August 2015

UFC impresses in Saskatoon visit

A UFC title belt on display at the UFC Experience.
    When it came to making a first impression, the UFC brought its A-game to Saskatoon.
    Going into UFC Fight Night 74, I had never dealt with mixed martial arts top professional circuit in any form. To be honest, I don’t really follow the action in UFC at all. I knew basics like who Dana White, Tom Wright, Brock Lesnar, Georges St-Pierre and Ronda Rousey are, but that was about it.
    I covered mixed martial arts to a small level in the past, but I entered a new sporting world over the last three days that finished with the Fight Night 74 card on Sunday at the SaskTel Centre. As a first impression, I think the UFC has a really great thing going on.
    In early July, I received a call from Julie Scott, who is the senior editor for sports, arts and lifestyles, at The Canadian Press, and she asked if I wanted to cover the UFC’s first ever stop in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan for the national wire service. I jumped at the chance mainly because I had never done anything relating to the UFC before.
    Knowing it was followed by legions of fans and veteran sports reporters, I went into the experience with an open mind. I didn’t want anyone to taint what was my first experience with the circuit. I also ended up writing stories for the Saskatoon Express and this blog, so I was going to have a busy time.
    While there was an initial press function on Thursday, I jumped into covering the stop at the open workout held on Friday at O’Brians Event Centre. Very quickly, I was impressed by the professionalism of the UFC staffers, and that didn’t change at all during the Saskatoon stop. I ended up befriending the trio of Carolyn Blakely, Neil Springer and Stephanie Ura, and they were all so courteous and made life so much easier.
    Things ran so smoothly on the fight night itself. Usually when you cover a new sporting organization for the first time, there are usually some hiccups.
    On fight night, I really had to stretch my memory to recall any problems. In all honesty, that was the best first night out I ever had, when it came to covering a new sporting event.
    It was also cool to see how accessible Wright, who is the UFC’s executive vice-president and general manager for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was. Wright, who is also a former commissioner of the CFL, wasn’t just accessible to the press, but he spent lots of time meeting fans, who were visibly pumped to talk to the organization’s top Canadian boss.
Max Holloway chats with reporters.
    The fighters themselves were really engaging. They all have cool individual background stories, and you could quickly see why the beat reporters want to stay hooked into the circuit.
    You could also tell the fighters also have a genuine mutual respect for each other. One example of that respect came at the weigh-ins.
    After the fighters for each match were weighed in and did the press fight photo pose, they pretty much all gave each other the brother hug. In the case of Montreal lightweight fighter Olivier Aubin-Mercier, he presented sugary treats to his opponent in Tony Sims of Denver, Colorado.
    Stereotypically, one expects the weigh-ins to break down into a series of trash talk taunts, where the fighters appear set to throw chairs at each other. That was far from the case at the UFC weigh-ins.
    The respect aspect was reinforced during the post-fight press conference. Hawaiian Max Holloway (14-3) had a bittersweet main event win over fellow featherweight Charles Oliveira (20-5) of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Oliveira came away favouring his right shoulder after an exchange forcing him to retire at 1:39 of the first round. 
    Holloway, who was the UFC’s fifth ranked featherweight, was given a knockout victory, while Oliveira, who was the UFC’s seventh ranked featherweight, fell to the ground holding his shoulder and was carried away on a stretcher.
    In a post-match interview live from the ring, Holloway asked the fans to pray for Oliveira. Holloway made certain to show his concern for his opponent at the press conference, when asked about how the win came.
    “It sucked,” said Holloway. “I train super hard, but it comes with the territory. My prayers go out to Charles (Oliveira).
    “At the end of the day, these guys have to understand that he is ranked number seven in the world, so he probably only does this, and he gets money probably only fighting. Injuries set you back.
    “If you can’t fight, you can’t pay your bills. It is sad to see.”
    Out of the 12 bouts on the UFC card, the first 10 were really good, with the last of that stretch being the welterweight fight between Patrick Cote and Josh Burkman, which was given fight of the night honours. The back and forth physical battle ended at 1:26 of the third round, when Cote, who is from Rimouski, Quebec, knocked out Burkman, who is from Salt Lake City, Utah. The crowd of 7,202 at the SaskTel Centre rose to their feet to give their loudest ovation of the night.
Two girls take part in a jousting game at the UFC Experience.
    Overall, the first 10 fights overshadow boring co-main event split decision welterweight victory of Denver, Colorado’s Neil Magny over Brazilian Erick Silva and the bad luck of Oliveira’s injury in the main event.
    Besides the fights, fans also enjoyed the UFC Experience, which was set up in the SaskTel Centre parking lot on Saturday and Sunday. The UFC Experience contained sport specific fun physical tests and games. One of the most popular features was the chance to have you picture taken with the title belt.
    On Friday, the UFC also donated $10,000 to local Special Olympics programs though UFC Community Works.
    In making a good first impression, the UFC’s first stop in Saskatchewan was a success. Hopefully, the organization’s next fight card won’t be too many years away.

CP story Free Press style

    If you are interested in checking out the story I did for The Canadian Press on UFC Fight Night 74, it can be found on the Winnipeg Free Press website here.
    When I saw my story on the Free Press site, I was hoping they might allow me to cover the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets as a beat writer. It was just a thought. (Lol).

Hilltops roll Rifles

    The venerable Saskatoon Hilltops made short work of the Rifles in Winnipeg on Sunday.
    The defending Canadian Junior Football League champions blasted the host Rifles 50-9 at Investors Group Field to improve to 2-0. The Rifles fell to 0-2.
    Hilltops running back Logan Fischer gained 172 yards on the ground, which included an 80-yard TD run. Fischer had two scores on the ground in the romp.
    Saskatoon’s biggest play came from Liam Murphy, who returned a missed field goal 125 yards for a major in the third quarter. The defence got in on the scoring act thanks to a long interception return touchdown coming from defensive back Luke Melnyk.
    The Hilltops and Rifles go at it again, when Saskatoon hosts its regular season home opener this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

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