It's a little after 6 am. The temp's a sack-shrinking -3 degrees, and people are lined up outside the Scotiabank Theatre.
Sure, rabid fans dressed as storm troopers and boy wizards camp out for weeks in anticipation of a new Star Wars or Harry Potter movie, but these freezing folks hardly resemble Trekkies.
The mood is decidedly more... rowdy.
Mixed martial arts (aka ultimate fighting) might be illegal in Ontario (see my story here for more on the issue, as well as illegal MMA fighting in the province), but it's still the fastest growing sport in the world.
Even Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White was a bit surprised by the "crazy fuckers" who came out for yesterday's event.
More than 400 UFC diehards crammed into the old Paramount's theatre for a mid-morning press conference and autograph signing with UFC welterweight champ Georges "Rush" St. Pierre and lightweight champ, "The Prodigy", BJ Penn.
The two fighters, who squared off two years ago in a bout that saw St. Pierre earn a controversial split-decision win despite coming away looking the worse for wear, will face each other in the Octagon at UFC 94 on January 31.
Penn, a former welter weight champion, will move up a weight class with the hopes of becoming the first UFC champion to hold belts in two divisions at the same time.
A victory by St. Pierre, meanwhile, will open the door for him to move up a weight class to challenge middle weight champ Anderson Silva, who is considered the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world.
But until GSP faces Silva, this - GSP vs. Penn 2 - is the MMA superfight of the century.
Despite the animosity GSP and Penn have for each other, the mood was respectful, even lighthearted, as they fielded questions from media and fans and posed for pictures.
I'll get into what they had to say about the upcoming showdown in a later post.
For the moment I'd like to talk about the question that was on everybody's mind: Will the UFC ever hold an event in Toronto?
"Absolutely. As soon as possible."
That, of course, means that MMA will have to be sanctioned by the Ontario Athletic Commission, the only roadblock holding back a UFC event in Toronto. UFC 83 in Montreal, GSP's hometown, earlier this year was the fastest-selling fight card ever (seats were gone in only a few minutes and the entire town seemed to forget the Habs were in the playoffs, at least for that weekend). Also, eight of the top 10 PPV events last year were UFC cards. Impressive.
White says they're already planning a second UFC event in Montreal for either March or April.
Toronto is a huge MMA town. Top MMA website sherdog.com gets more visits from Toronto fans than any other city except for Los Angeles. And White repeatedly mentioned how every UFC event - whether it's in Las Vegas or London, England - is always full of fight-crazy Canucks.
"You guys are everywhere and we love it," he says.
So if 400-plus would wait in the cold to be in the same room as GSP and Penn, how many would buy tickets to watch them actually hit each other? (White said that GSP vs. Penn 2 should have been held in Toronto or Hawaii, Penn's home state, although tough tax laws made the latter cost-prohibitive). A UFC in Toronto would undoubtedly sell out the Air Canada Centre (and it's not like we're at all distracted by the Leafs or Raptors).
White promised that the UFC would come to Toronto, something the organization has been working toward for some time. The UFC is currently working on getting the sport sanctioned in New York and Massachusetts (two of the last holdouts among the lower 48), which White expects to happen by next year, and then all of his attention will be focused on Ontario.
"We can't wait to get up here," he said, joking that the UFC would even move its offices here. "We have a nine-year track record of health and safety (the Ontario Athletic Commission's main concern). They can't deny us. It's only a matter of time. So we're coming guns a'blazing."
For now, I, like every other fight fan in town, will have to settle for watching the UFC on Viewers Choice PPV. And standing in line in the cold for a taste of the UFC up close.