The festivities for this weekend’s UFC 152 in Toronto have officially started as the open workout for the six headlining fighters took place on Wednesday.
In attendance at the Xtreme Couture Gym in Etobicoke were light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his challenger Vitor Belfort, flyweight title contenders Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson, as well as middleweights Brian Stann and Michael Bisping.
Bisping, a perpetual UFC villain, won over the crowd by engaging them throughout his workout, a theme he hopes carries over to his fight this weekend.
“I love it out here, I love Canada,” the six year UFC veteran said. “I love the Canadian people, always have a great time and fingers crossed they’ll cheer for me Saturday night.”
UFC 152 takes place at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday with main card action airing on Pay-Per-View and the preliminary card fights on Sportsnet. It will be the third event the UFC has hosted in Ontario since its provincial debut at the Rogers Centre last April.
Workouts were open to the public and hundreds of spectators came to see some of the UFC’s biggest stars hit pads, shadow box, and joke around for 10 to 15 minutes each.
After Stann had showed off some of his technique it was time for Belfort to enter the building.
Following chants of ‘Vitor’ the long-time MMA veteran took time to address the crowd thanking them for their support and asking some of the children how their grades are and why they weren’t in school that day.
It was a special treat to at least one group of fans who had flown all the way from Brazil to get a peek at their fellow countryman and his soon to be opponent Jones.
“I came to see Vitor Belfort and Jon Jones, of course,” said Lucina Oliveira, who is making her first visit to North America and will be in attendance for the live event on Saturday. “It’s just emotional, in Brazil I play box and I just love the sport, so emotional.”
While there was obviously a strong Brazilian presence in the building, the biggest roar broke out when the 25-year-old Jones entered the gym.
“Bones” joked with the Brazilian members of the crowd who were chanting ‘Vitor’ while doing his workout. He playfully offered a handshake to one of the Belfort supporters before slyly withdrawing it and nonchalantly running his hand over his head, not once but twice, drawing a chorus of laughs from the crowd.
The champ did eventually shake the fan’s hand.
Jones, who recently became the first mixed martial artist to sign a global endorsement deal with Nike, is primed with confidence entering his fourth title defence.
“The key to beating Vitor is to just be me,” Jones said. “Go out there believing in myself and having fun, move my body the way I’m capable of, and just having that confidence in my coaching, myself, my versatility, seriousness and training.”
That type of self-confidence is a trait shared by Bisping. The well-known trash talker has done his best to build up excitement in his fight with Stann, a straight-laced US Marine who prefers to do his talking in the Octagon.
“Yeah, I’ve talked it up a bit in the media but I’m just having some fun and trying to generate interest in the fight,” Bisping said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Brian Stann and it’s going to be a tough fight. He hits hard and I know he’s determined and ready.
“He wants to beat me up a get a title shot but I’m too fast, too technical, and he’s going to feel that by the end of the night.”
Next up for the fighters’ is the UFC 152 pre-fight press conference at the Real Sports Bar and Grill across from the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.