Fight fans of vary­ing de­gree show sup­port

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Sports - By Steve Rot­stein

While most fight fans had their at­ten­tion set on a mid­dleweight ti­tle matchup in Las Ve­gas be­tween two of box­ing’s big­gest stars, a dif­fer­ent brand of com­bat sports took over Satur­day night in Up­town.

The world’s pre­mier mixed mar­tial arts or­ga­ni­za­tion de­scended upon the Steel City for the third time, as the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship held its 116th UFC Fight Night card at PPG Paints Arena. For­mer UFC mid­dleweight cham­pion Luke Rock­hold head­lined the card against No. 9-ranked mid­dleweight con­tender David Branch.

Fans of vary­ing de­grees, from ca­sual to hard­core, packed the home of the Pen­guins to catch a rare glimpse of live MMA ac­tion at its high­estlevel.

Tom Feely, who trekked from Wash­ing­ton to Pitts­burgh by Am­trak to catch the show, leans to­ward the “diehard” end of the MMA fan spec­trum.

“I love MMA, so when­ever it’s in the north­east and I can get to it by mass tran­sit, I might as well show up,” Feely said.

While Feely es­ti­mated he has at­tended more than a dozen live cards, oth­ers were tak­ing in a live UFC event for the first time. One of those first-time at­ten­dees was Ma­son Shi, a stu­dent at Carnegie Mel­lon and a San Jose, Calif., na­tive.

Although he’s only been watch­ing MMA for “two or three months,” Shi al­ready is highly ed­u­cated on the sport. Aside from Rock­hold, he sin­gled out No. 13 wel­ter­weight con­tender Ka­maru Usman as an up-and-comer he was ex­cited to see per­form.

“I just do my re­search when I start fol­low­ing some­thing,” Shi said. “I’m hop­ing it’s go­ing to be a good card.”

It was only nat­u­ral for Shi to be drawn to MMA even­tu­ally. He started do­ing taek­wondo as a child, then took up box­ing as he got older.

Green Tree na­tive Tom Graziani also has been around com­bat sports all his life. Although he con­sid­ers him­self more of a box­ing fan, he has made it out to all three UFC events in Pitts­burgh. His dad was a boxer, so the two would at­tend lo­cal MMA shows to­gether in the past.

Graziani wasn’t look­ing for­ward to any matchups in par­tic­u­lar — rather, he had a sim­ple re­quest.

“Just a good night of fight­ing,” he said with a wide smile.

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