MONTREAL - The UFC's debut in Canada was a record success last April. And fighters are expecting a repeat Saturday night at UFC 97- a loud and proud crowd of 20,000-plus.
''I hear the Bell Centre's crazy loud,'' said former light-heavyweight champion Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell. ''Everybody told me to bring my earplugs.''
UFC president Dana White has said Montreal ranks among his top three cities as far as event atmosphere. ''The crowd (at UFC 83) was absolutely insane the whole three days we were there, it was crazy,'' he said.
The other two at the top of his list were UFC 93 in Dublin in January - a smaller but very vocal crowd - and UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio, in March 2007, which was a record fan turnout until Montreal came along.
The Canadian show - official attendance was 20,011 - was the UFC's fastest ever sellout and the biggest MMA show ever in North America. This one sold out even faster and UFC president Dana White plans on coming back.
''To be honest with you, I love the weather here in April,'' he said Thursday at the pre-fight news conference. ''Last year we came, it was great and it's working out this year too.''
Canadian middleweight Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald, one of several veterans of UFC 83 returning for UFC 97, remembers being blown away by the fans in Montreal.
''I was getting up to go for breakfast on Saturday morning before the fight and there were already people lined up outside the Bell Centre to get in there,'' he recalled. ''There was just a crazy vibe in that whole downtown area of Montreal for last year.''
Canadian lightweight Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout recalls the noise inside on fight night.
''What I really remember about it is just the volume of the crowd was just unbelievable, unlike anything I've ever heard, just a feeling of electricity in the building,'' he said. ''Just so much excitement going around, so much support, so many people that were just so good to me. It really was a nice feeling.''
American fighters were also impressed. Ed Herman, for one, is another happy to be back.
''I loved Montreal, actually it's one of my favourite cities that I've ever been to. The crowd was awesome, just the intensity. I think it's kind of like the hockey feel, which we're not used to as much in the States. I thought the fans were awesome. The crowd was great and the city's beautiful, man.''The only negative for some is customs. Liddell, for example, opted to leave his beloved pint-sized dog Bean back home in California.
''I wasn't sure about quarantine and all that stuff, I didn't really check into it. But I'm assuming like any other place we go, getting him through customs could be a bitch.''