The last time Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson were in Toronto the two of them attended a Coldplay concert together.
It wasn’t the venue one would expect to see UFC fighters at, especially considering the two of them are battling each other for the inaugural UFC flyweight title at UFC 152 on Saturday, but it turns out they actually enjoyed the experience.
Benavidez reminisced about their ‘date’ at the UFC 152 pre-fight press conference at the Real Sports Bar & Grill on Thursday.
“As strange as it is, it was actually a little bit inspirational to be in there because we were in the same arena, the Air Canada Centre, and here’s this crowd going nuts over this act in the middle,” said the 28-year-old Benavidez. “I was just thinking come two months we’re going to be in the middle putting on a show and these fans are going to be going crazy for us.
“Yeah, people won’t be crying and waving lighters but were going to be controlling that many people in there and we’re going to be in the middle putting on a show, so at times I’d look at Demetrious and just imagine fighting him in front of all these people.”
The two of them were joined at the presser by UFC 152 headliners Jon Jones, the light heavyweight champion, his opponent Vitor Belfort, and middleweight combatants Michael Bisping and Brian Stann.
Tom Wright, the UFC Director of Canadian Operations, hosted the event as UFC President Dana White landed in Toronto too late to attend the event.
His absence was noticeable as a slew of media members wanted to address White’s relationship with Jones after he berated one his company’s biggest stars on an Aug. 23 conference call following the champ’s refusal to fight Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice at UFC 151 on Labour Day weekend.
That led to the cancellation of the event.
“I definitely really feel horrible about the way it all played out,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, I’m hoping the fans start to open up their minds about the situation and realize that I’m not a UFC executive and I have absolutely zero power to cancel an event.”
The 25-year-old went on to try and justify his decision to turn down the short notice fight with Sonnen.
“Being a world champion I’ve dedicated my whole life to this. Between all the wrestling tournaments where I’ve been getting pinned my whole life and all the learning from tournaments and camps, everything that I’ve done through my life has led me to this point,” he said.
“So to just put my belt on the line to satisfy the people around me, it sounds selfish, but when you’ve worked so hard for something you owe it to yourself to protect it.”
Despite explaining himself to the fans jam-packing the bar Jones knows his decision may garner some negative reaction come fight night.
“Even if I get booed I’m happy to be here guys,” he joked.
He wasn’t the only one as multiple fighters spoke about their excitement to compete in Canada including Stann, a United States Marine.
“I’ve said this several times, a lot of the fighters when they find out a card is going to be in Canada you know we all kind of call Joe Silva [UFC matchmaker] and say ‘Hey I’d love to be on that card’, and there’s a reason for that,” Stann said.
“Every time the UFC comes to Canada you know you’re going to go out in front of a packed crowd. The fans here are just so passionate, it’s completely different when you fight in Canada than when you fight in Las Vegas, it really is just a completely different environment and I’m honoured and blessed to be here and be in such a great fight.”
For Benavidez the experience has solidified the expectations he came in with.
“I’ve always just heard like this mythical tales about fighting in Canada and how great it is, how passionate the fans are and it hasn’t let me down since I’ve been here,” said the flyweight title hopeful.
“Even when I came and did the press tour a couple weeks ago it was amazing so I just can’t wait to go in there on Saturday and feel the energy and give you guys a show.”
Tickets are still available for the event.