Mar, 20thMemorial Day weekend is always a busy time in Las Vegas. Leading the charge are the youth of America, men and women who descend on the Strip with the intent to party. It was probably in this spirit that Zuffa’s UFC Fan Expo was conceived last year. Paired up with a fight card that featured a heated grudge match, it was a natural catchall for fans of every stripe. Yet it wasn’t only fans who were being scooped up: A good selection of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s active roster was on hand to connect with them.
Having been to plenty of expos and conventions, I know the drill. If you’re an exhibitor, you’re anchored to the show floor, where you present your products and services. If you don’t offer something interesting, you’ll be bored and even a bit angry when few visitors stop by your booth. Just like MMA fighters, smart business owners prepare for the engagement, and a swarm of mixed martial arts fans is a fair test of their readiness.
In this respect, the UFC did its homework, and it showed. People arrived early and waited in long lines to buy tickets. Once inside, they were greeted by the Tapout RV, which served as a hub for the company’s offerings, including information on its new line of gyms. Many of the companies that advertise on Spike TV and on the MMA fighters’ shorts were going Darwinian with competitive offerings of athlete appearances, signings, giveaways, scantily clad girls in company colors and other eye-catching displays. Long before lunchtime, the convention center was gridlocked. To capitalize on the traffic, Black Belt made plans months before the event took place. A worthy UFC fighter was selected for the cover of the issue that would be available during the show: Frank Mir. We figured having him sign mags at our booth would be a crowd-pleaser, so we marshaled our efforts to make it happen.
Days before the UFC Fan Expo, we had received our advance copies of the issue, but it wasn’t available on newsstands—which meant Frank Mir hadn’t seen it yet. It felt a little like Christmas in May. Those of us who were working the booth set up the tables and displays, which included a banner bearing the Black Belt logo and a gigantic image of Frank Mir executing a cross punch. It was exciting to have an ace in the hole, but with all the competing vendors, we weren’t sure how much of a crowd he’d draw. As long as Frank Mir showed up on time, though, we’d be happy.
Judging by his entrance—15 minutes early with his wife and father in tow—he was as excited about being at the Black Belt booth as we were. Die-hard fans began lining up an hour early, and his arrival immediately made us the center of a commotion. Attendees surrounded the booth with all varieties of cameras, hoping for a close-up. It didn’t matter that Frank Mir had recently lost his chance at another UFC heavyweight title shot. In the eyes of his fans, he’d been the champ before, and he probably would be again.
We passed out free copies of Black Belt, which Frank Mir happily signed as the line continued to grow. Even though crowd control became an issue from time to time, Frank Mir was gracious and patient for two straight hours, posing for snaps and chatting with admirers. He said being on the cover was a dream come true for him and his father, who was a loyal reader when he introduced his boy to the martial arts. More than 1,100 copies later, his time was up, and he left to man his own booth.
There were lots of highlights from the weekend, among them a hilarious Bruce Buffer impersonation contest and the much-anticipated UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans. The hours we spent with Frank Mir, however, were the part that none of us will forget.