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Thousands of UFC fans crowded the DirectEnergy Centre for the Fan Expo and weigh ins on April 29 2011. Long lines formed as fans waited to get autographs from their favorite fighters such as Clay Guida in this photo.(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail) (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Thousands of UFC fans crowded the DirectEnergy Centre for the Fan Expo and weigh ins on April 29 2011. Long lines formed as fans waited to get autographs from their favorite fighters such as Clay Guida in this photo.(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail) (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

UFC fans flock to rub elbows with their heroes Add to ...

By now you've likely heard about how the Ultimate Fighting Championship is a growing global sports phenomenon. A walk around the mixed martial arts organization's fan expo in Toronto on Friday illustrated why.

It's clear that those who like the UFC like it a lot, and it's hard to think of another sports league or organization more in tune with its customers.

More than 30,000 fans from all 10 Canadian provinces and 48 of the 50 U.S. states purchased a ticket ($35 in advance or $40 at the door) or two-day pass ($60 in advance or $65 at the door) for the event, turning the Direct Energy Centre floor into a maze of muscles, tattoos, scantily clad women and tight T-shirts (most of which featured some combination of gothic lettering, eagles, snakes, skulls and dragons).

The event has a Thunderdome-meets-Las Vegas vibe, with loud music, massive video screens, flashing lights, a grappling tournament and enough advertising to give even the most ardent NASCAR fan pause.

Want to get your picture taken inside the famous octagon? It's here. Want to meet your MMA hero? More than 50 past and present UFC stars are doing autograph signings or making appearances at the event, so anyone willing to brave long lines will get to meet his or her favourite fighters, who seem to easily embrace their stardom and enjoy interacting with their fans.

There are UFC toys, clothes, wallets, travel mugs, shot glasses, trading cards, posters, action figures and mousepads for sale. Everything an aspiring fighter could ever need, from gloves and trunks to exercise equipment and supplements is also available from 125 vendors.

UFC fans also took over the Ricoh Coliseum, packing the home of the AHL's Toronto Marlies on Friday afternoon to watch a free question and answer session with the current champions in all seven weight classes.

That was followed by the official UFC 129 weigh-in, where all 24 men fighting Saturday stripped down to their underwear (or less in the case of Ben Henderson and his towel) and stepped on the scale to make the card official. There was even an appearance by actor Steven Segal, who strode on stage with Brazilian light heavyweight Lyodo Machida.

In a little taste of what to expect on fight night, American challenger Jake Shields was booed loudly, while Canadian welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre received a rousing ovation as the two stared each other down.

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