Okay, I admit it. I enjoyed sitting 20 feet away from the octagon, on the floor of the Bell Centre, watching UFC 154 up close and personal.
I've always been a sucker for the live events, whether sporting, a concert or a play. The first time I went to a big-time soccer match was a Holland-England World Cup qualifier in Rotterdam in October 1993. All of a sudden I found myself hooked and have kept a watchful eye on the beautiful game ever since.
Ditto when I once was assigned to be a member of John Jones's pit crew during the 1989 Molson Indy. Horse racing is another spectacle that once I saw live at Woodbine I was taken in.
But before Saturday night, in which the big story was the return of Georges St-Pierre from major knee surgery, mixed martial art competitions did nothing for me other than sometimes intrude on my Saturday nights. Whether I was in Toronto or Montreal, out with friends after a Maple Leafs or Canadiens game, I always kept an eye on the second game of the Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader.
But in the last several years I've noticed that on nights of a UFC card most of the haunts I visited catered to the MMA masses. Hockey no longer was on the television sets in these establishments. UFC ruled late Saturday night and the bars were packed as a result.
It could not have been a good business decision, however, because I noticed those who were zoned in on the MMA battles nursed sodas. Little beer flowed.
I don't pretend to know GSP as well as those who filled the Bell Centre. But I know enough about him to like him from a distance. He seems humble and it's easy to see why he's one of Canada's most popular athletes.
As expected, he shook off the rust after knee surgery 11 months ago and no fights since April 2011. St-Pierre beat up on American Carlos Condit to run his win streak to 11 in a row and will set up a super bout with 37-year-old Anderson Silva.
It was weird the way a potential Silva-St-Pierre fight hung over the St-Pierre-Condit fight. Silva sat ringside, stood up and clapped as GSP finished off his opponent for a unanimous decision.
The 31-year-old St-Pierre said afterwards he will take a vacation, confer with his entourage before deciding whether a bout with Silva is the right move for him next. But GSP-Silva is the fight the most ardent UFC fans want to see.
What they saw on Saturday was a bloody mess. Condit had a nasty cut above and to the side of his right eye that opened in the first round. St-Pierre was cut later in the fight below his left eye after he was knocked down by a Condit kick. GSP left afterwards with a bag of ice on the right side of his head.
GSP said he now knows about ring rust.
"I missed the feel of the octagon, the ground and the crowd," he said. "I missed it all."
St-Pierre, however, dominated the fight. He took down Condit every round and was the easy winner.
It was an exciting way to cap off six-plus hours of action on the Bell Centre floor on Saturday evening. The atmosphere was like the Habs were playing. The crowd sang Ole, Ole, Ole during the GSP-Condit fight. They chanted GSP, GSP, GSP. There was a grand old buzz in the building despite the absence of the locked out NHLers.
I also saw a lot hugging. Fighters hugged their support staff, pre- and post-fight. Opponents hugged opponents. UFC staff hugged VIPs. It went on and on.
I also saw plenty of bloody noses and facial cuts, but only one knockout from Johnny Hendricks when he landed a left to the kisser of Martin Kampmann. There were a couple tapouts. There was a heated scuffle between two spectators in the stands.
There also was controversy when the referee stopped the Patrick Cote-Alessio Sakara fight in the first round after Sakara whacked the local fighter in the back of the head nine times.
Cote couldn't believe the fight was stopped. But the boos that poured down from the stands turned into cheers when the referee returned to the ring after watching the turn of events on replay.
Sakara wound up disqualified for his illegal punches to the back to his opponent's head. And the neat thing about it, he apologized to the pro-Cote crowd in his interview inside the octagon afterwards.
I must confess that I missed the one of the most exciting moments of the evening because I was upstairs eating dinner. But don't worry, my Canadian Press colleague Andy Blatchford filled me in.
Ivan Menjivar, a Salvadoran who trains at the same Tristar Gym as GSP, escaped potential harm in his bout with a brilliant arm bar that forced Russian Azamat Gashimov to tapout.
I promise you I will not tapout on my enthusiasm for this spectacle. I definitely will be watching when St-Pierre clashes with Silva.
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