Fight fans of varying degree show support
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.