BELFAST, Northern Ireland – It's hard for anyone in this town to not be aware that the UFC has arrived. There are billboards, posters and advertisements everywhere for UFC 72, which will be held Saturday at Odyssey Arena.
Those arriving by air are greeted by a large billboard featuring the faces of main event fighters Rich Franklin and Yushin Okami, as well as Forrest Griffin. Smaller ads promoting the bout adorn the baggage carousels.
But the UFC hasn't been as warmly embraced by the fans in Northern Ireland as it has been at its recent shows in England and in the U.S.
Though there are plenty of fans wearing UFC merchandise in evidence around town, the crowd at the weigh-in Friday was decidedly smaller than average.
UFC weigh-ins have become an event unto themselves, drawing as many as 5,000 fans. But the crowd at the Odyssey Arena for the UFC 72 weigh-in was no more than 1,500 and was hardly the over-the-top enthusiastic gatherings that greeted the fighters at events in Las Vegas, Houston, Columbus, Ohio, and Manchester, England.
Griffin, who is of Irish descent, received the strongest reaction from the crowd, and Franklin was almost greeted warmly.
But most fans simply sat quietly in their seats watching. And when the weigh-in was over, UFC color analyst Joe Rogan, who was serving as the master of ceremonies, had to tell them it was time to leave.
"The weigh-in's over," he said, jokingly. "What are you doing? Get the (expletive) out of here."
UFC president Dana White said he does not expect the arena to be sold out, though he said it would be close. He said "we priced the tickets too high for this."
The top ticket is about $500 U.S.
- Rich Franklin