Indianapolis welcomes the UFC with open arms (and dolls)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The UFC hit Indianapolis for the first time this week, taking over the city's sports scene. UFC president Dana White said that the promotion's first foray into the Hoosier State has already been going well.

"We like to go to all these new markets and introduce the live event. I think it's been one of the reasons we've grown so fast and been so successful. At the live show, we infect 18-20,000 people, and when they leave, they go and infect three people. The live event is exciting. There's this buzz and this energy. We want to go into all these new markets," White said at Thursday's press conference.

"We're excited to be here. This place is known as a traditional sports town. I'm proud and happy to have the UFC here now."

White did not have an exact figure on ticket sales, but said that they have been "fantastic since day one."

Sports bars in the downtown Wholesale District have signs up reading, "Welcome UFC Fans." On Wednesday night, Buffalo Wild Wings hosted an autograph session with local fighter Matt Mitrione, and all the waitresses wore Tapout shirts. Thursday evening, Kilroy's filled their TV screens with the UFC's "Countdown to 119" and a rerun of WEC 50.

A group of around 75 fans crowded into the Old National Center -- where the Broadway show "Mary Poppins" is playing -- for the press conference on Thursday. Fans, including a young girl who carried a Brock Lesnar and Chuck Liddell doll instead of Barbies, clamored for the chance to take pictures and get autographs from the fighters on the main card.

The city's main newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, has devoted column inches to the UFC, educating MMA newbies and spotlighting the locals on the card. With the city's beloved Colts out of town, it's easier for MMA to get front page coverage.

Outside of the sports scene, it's a bit harder to to tell that a major MMA event is taking over the town. There is a bigger presence reminding the city about the upcoming International Violin Competition and "Mary Poppins."

But it's too early to judge if the UFC is a success in Indiana, or if it has made the often-touted financial impact on the compact Indianapolis downtown. What will tell the story is how many fans crowd into the Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday night.

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