The Ultimate Fighting Championship landed in new territory Wednesday when reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo and challenger Erik Koch promoted their UFC 149 fight in Calgary.
The July 21 bout at Scotiabank Saddledome is Aldo's second title defence in Canada. The 25-year-old from Rio de Janeiro defeated Mark Hominick last year in Toronto and is currently on a 14-win streak.
“I'm excited to be able to conquer the hearts of the Canadian fans” Aldo said via an interpreter. “There is another fighter here named Georges (St. Pierre) who was able to do that. I'd like to be able to do the same.”
It's the first of three UFC events scheduled in Canada in 2012 with dates in Toronto and Montreal later this year.
The UFC's director of Canadian operations said it was a toss-up as to whether Edmonton or Calgary would be the first Alberta host.
“On a per capita basis, Canada is the largest and most developed UFC market in the entire world and within Canada, Alberta is the most developed province in our country,” Tom Wright said. “It was only a matter of time before we came to Calgary.”
Koch, meanwhile, is a winner of his last four fights. The 23-year-old American is 13-1.
The fighters had a whirlwind itinerary Wednesday. After a morning news conference, the combatants were scheduled to take a helicopter ride — Aldo's first on a chopper — through the mountains of Kananaskis.
A football clinic with a few of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders and an autograph signing at a mall in the evening were also on the agenda.
“I've been here a day and I swear I could move here,” Koch said. “I'm very excited to get the fight with Jose and just put on a show, man. UFC 149 I think will be a remarkable fight.
“The first card in Calgary, to be on the main event, is just awesome. I get a title fight and I get to do it in Calgary.”
Aldo, whose career record is 21-1, returns to Brazil on Thursday. His wife, Vivianne, is a Muay Thai fighter who is expecting their first child a week after his bout in Calgary.
Aldo is coming off the successful defence of his title in his hometown in January. After knocking out challenger Chad Mendes in the first round, he sprinted into the crowd to celebrate with his countrymen, to the consternation of security and UFC president Dana White.
“I will wait until the very moment I win and then I'll do something to thank the crowd for winning with me, that's if Dana allows me,” Aldo said.
Both fighters downplayed fighting at altitude. Calgary is just over 1,000 metres above sea level.
“I'm not to worried about it,” Aldo said. “I've fought in places with higher elevation. I like the challenge.”
Aldo comes from a stable of champion fighters from Brazil. The Calgary event also features former light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua and former interim heavyweight champ Minotauro Nogueira.
Five Canadians are on the card, including local fighter Nick Ring. He'll face American Court McGee and the two have a history.
Ring defeated McGee on Season 11 of the reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” but Ring had to leave the show with a knee injury. McGee was eventually brought back to the show and ultimately won.
So while the 32-year-old Ring has redemption on his mind, he says the biggest challenge in his preparation may be the Calgary Stampede, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in July.
“I'm going to have to hole myself up in my house and not party,” Ring said. “If you guys have ever been part of Stampede, you know what I'm talking about. This city gets crazy. I might have to leave town and go to the woods and kick trees or something.”
Edmonton's Mitch Clarke, Mitch Gagnon of Sudbury, Ont., Antonio Carvalho of Oshawa, Ont., and Ryan Jimmo of Saint John, N.B., are the other Canadians featured in UFC 149.
Tickets for the Calgary event go on sale Saturday. Prices range from $85 to $650.