Friday, May 28, 2010 | 3:20 p.m.
Thousands of fans, dozens of fighters and more than 200 exhibitors gathered at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Friday for the second-ever UFC Fan Expo.
“The first year we did it, it was half the size,” UFC President Dana White said. “Now it’s twice the size and in this economy right here, to get this many people out to Vegas to enjoy something like this, it’s incredible.”
Exhibitors ranging from Tapout and Affliction to Egg Whites International offered fans a wide range of merchandise, dietary supplements and fight gear. Attendees were also treated to photograph and autograph sessions with fighters as well as an opportunity to go inside a UFC octagon.
The main attraction, however, was the fighters themselves.
“We have a great relationship with our fans. I hope that’s something that never changes in our sport,” said Randy Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the sport’s most recognizable fighters.
“There are not many sports where the athletes come and hang out with the spectators. I think the expo perpetuates that bridge between the fans and our fighters.”
Several lines wrapped around the venue with fans waiting to get an autograph from their favorite fighter.
“Sometimes you forget how popular the sport is and how much people really do love it,” fighter Jon Fitch said. “It really opens your eyes to show you how much of an impact what we do does. It’s awesome.”
The expo also featured the Grapplers Quest grappling tournament, which featured high-profile fighters such as PRIDE champion Takanori Gomi, WEC fighter Shane Roller and UFC veterans Hermes Franca and Caol Uno.
“We’ve had all the who’s who of the UFC champions from Matt Hughes to BJ Penn to Diego Sanchez, they’ve all come up through the ranks and they learned their grappling game here with us,” Grapplers Quest announcer John Cimins said.
“It Ain’t Chemo,” a group that supports cancer patients, even conducted a bone marrow drive at the expo.
“There’s no pain involved all we do is swab the inside of your cheek and send the sample off to be analyzed for a DNA match,” It Ain’t Chemo founder Kevin Hoyt said.
In exchange for the sample, It Ain’t Chemo gave potential donors an exclusive photo and autograph session with former UFC ring girl Natasha Wicks, and other popular figures in the fighting community.
“If we get one match then we went to the UFC Fan expo and saved a life, just one match and we save a life,” Hoyt said.
While the setting maybe unusual, Hoyt thinks it is the perfect venue for his organization.
“There’s going to be 30 to 50 thousand people at this thing,” he said. “If I can just get the word out about my company to that many people, if I can just help a handful of these 50 thousand people, it’s a win for me.”
The expo is so diverse there is also a booth catering to the spiritual needs of both fans and fighters alike.
Brandon Beals, better known as the Fight Pastor, will become the first holy man to pray with fighters backstage at a UFC event at Saturday’s UFC 114 at MGM.
“What’s awesome is they sponsor and chaplain fighters, 12 of us so far,” said TUF 10 alum and Fight Pastor sponsored fighter Justin Wren. “It’s cool because we have our agents, we have our trainers, we have people fighting for us in every area except maybe our spiritual side.”
The expo continues on through Saturday. A one-day ticket for Saturday is $40.