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UFC 100:

Thousands turn out for inaugural UFC Fan Expo

UFC Fan Expo

Sam Morris

Keith Jardine signs autographs and poses for photos at the UFC Fan Expo Friday, July 10, 2009.

UFC 100: Fan Experience

As past UFC battles play on a screen overhead, fans wait in line to get autographs at the UFC Fan Expo Friday. Launch slideshow »

If the UFC 100 Fan Expo is any indication of the popularity of mixed martial arts, then UFC 200 might be right around the corner.

Tens of thousands of MMA fans packed the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Friday for the start of the first ever UFC Fan Expo, which runs until 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Plenty of scantily clad models and professional fighters were on hand to promote anything from weight-gain supplements to designer T-shirts.

"This is all really overwhelming," said Tapout Chairman and President Marc Kreiner. "It's tremendous. It's a big success and it really shows just how powerful and big the sport is. And really for the UFC to put on an event like this is just awesome. It just goes to show why they are the UFC and why they are No. 1."

More than 400 different exhibitors displayed their products alongside a massive grappling competition.

At times, lines stretched deep into the Mandalay Bay hallways just to enter the Fan Expo, but event organizers would not release official attendance statistics until the conclusion of the show.

Despite the ticket fees of $40 for Friday's expo, $45 for Saturday or $65 for a two-day pass, most vendors seemed to be enjoying solid sales figures.

"It's absolutely crazy in here," said Hector Ruvalcaba, who owns Victorville, Calif.-based Unbreakable Mouthpieces with his brother, Peter.

Ruvalcaba specializes in individually fitted mouthpieces with customized graphics that retail for $100 to $200.

"This is our first time here and the crowd is amazing. I hope the UFC keeps putting on events like this. What an experience. We'll be back next year for sure."

Aside from free samples of MMA-related energy drinks and protein bars, fans could also rack up free autographs from more than 25 professional fighters, as long as they were willing to wait in long lines.

The chance to meet some of his 9-year-old son's favorite fighters is what brought Alexei Maldonado from Pueblo, Colo.

"It's crowded, but it's worth it," Maldonado said. "You get to see the fighters and talk to them and get autographs. It's a great opportunity for fans to just walk up the guys you see on TV all the time."

In conjunction with the Fan Expo and the history-making UFC 100 fight Saturday, UFC president Dana White spoke on the main stage of the Expo prior to the induction of Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, Ken Shamrock, Randy Couture and Royce Gracie into the UFC Hall of Fame Friday night.

On Saturday morning, UFC chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Fertitta will deliver a keynote address at 11 a.m. inside the Expo prior to a contest searching for the next Octagon Girl.

"I think this whole event is really for the fans," Kreiner said. "The fans have an unmatched passion and love for the sport, and the fighters have that love and passion for the fans. I think you could hold this event prior to any UFC fight and see the same turnout."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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