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Ultimate Fight Night In Fairfax

Area's first round with UFC is highest grossing ‘Fight Night’ in company history.

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Amir Sadollah, left, absorbs a punch from Brad Blackburn. Sadollah won his bout with a unanimous decision, improving his UFC record to 3-1.

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Headliner Nate Diaz takes a brutal shot to the chin courtesy of rival Gray Maynard.

One step into the seating area of George Mason's University’s Patriot Center and the atmosphere of the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the fastest growing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion in the world — hits you the second you see the infamous octagon.

Bright lights illuminate the caged fighting surface where the blood of previous bouts stain the floor. Television cameramen shuffle around, looking for the best shot of the action while fans unleash colorful cheers at the athletes.

The sounds of fists smacking across flesh and dull thuds of takedowns further send spectators into a frenzy.

One fighter positions his hands around another's neck and the announced crowd of 8,500 erupts.

"Choke him out!," a fan yells. "CHOKE HIM OUT!"

Action-packed and often brutal, the UFC's brand of MMA, a combat sport featuring various boxing, kickboxing and wrestling disciplines, made its local debut in Fairfax on Jan. 11.

The event, titled Ultimate Fight Night 20, sold out the Patriot Center and was broadcast live on the cable channel Spike TV.

Luke Thomas, MMA analyst and editor of the popular fighting blog www.bloodyelbow.com, said the UFC's first appearance in the area was long overdue.

"People may not look at Fairfax County and think it's a MMA hotbed," Thomas said. "But there's also a lot of young professionals with money who can afford tickets to see the fights. It's a growing market."

The UFC stages 12 pay-per-view events annually, but free cable television events such as Fight Night give the company a chance to expand its reach to new markets.

Thomas said the UFC's ability to draw fans in smaller markets doesn't just stem from the sport's current popularity, but also the roster of fighters the company has to display.

"The UFC is like a touring rock band," he said. "Each time they come to your town, they can bring a new set of fighters with them. So you're seeing something new each time."

Coupled with the growing MMA community and rise of the sport in the area, Fight Night 20 set a new record for the UFC. The reported $730,000 gate gross is the highest earnings for a Fight Night event.

Springfield and Herndon-based MMA teacher and UFC veteran Aaron Riley credited the growing enthusiasm for the sport in the area for Fight Night's strong attendance.

"[The local MMA community] was really excited about the UFC event," Riley said. "[UFC Fight Night 20] will help bring attention to the community that we have here."

THE EVENT’S main card featured lightweight contenders Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard, but the electric atmosphere throughout the undercard fights suggested it didn't matter who was fighting, the fans just wanted fighting.

"[I wanted to see] the brutality of the UFC," said Fairfax County resident Nathan Runaldue, 20. "When you see somebody get [beat up], that's just incredible."

The event didn't just bring out fans in the local area, but also from as far away as Virginia Beach. Jason Cobb, 30, drove four hours for a chance to see the UFC live.

"When I heard [the UFC] was coming to Fairfax, I knew we had to travel to see the fights," he said. "It's just one of my favorite things to do, watch the fights every month."

Regardless of each fan's motivation for attending the event, be it violence or a chance to see a personal hero, spectators showed their enthusiasm for the sport when the event went live on television.

The live broadcast began at 9 p.m., and the arena's intensity reached fever-pitch when Richmond-based fighter Amir Sadollah opened the night with a unanimous decision victory over Brad Blackburn.

For Sadollah, the Fairfax show was the first time he enjoyed the role of semi-hometown hero.

"It was so cool [fighting in Virginia]," Sadollah said. "It was the first time in my life that I had a crowd chanting my name. ... The crowd was unbelievable."

Sadollah's striking in the first round of his bout started the event with the fast-paced action the UFC is known for.

His master stroke came when he pinned Blackburn against the cage with a disorienting punch that spurred a "SO-DOL-LAH" chant throughout the arena.

In a post-fight interview, Sadollah reflected on his amateur fighting days in Northern Virginia.

"I got chills [hearing my name being chanted]," he said. "It was nice to have that feeling again."

Perhaps the only lowlight came during the event's final match between headliners Maynard and Diaz.

Hyped as a grudge match, fans grew annoyed with the two fighters for dancing back and forth, refusing to take the fight to the ground and spending much of the bout talking trash.

Despite the hail of boos that rained on the octagon after the main event, Maynard, the winner by split decision, thanked the fans for their spirited support.

"I heard you Fairfax," Maynard said. "So who wants to see me fight [UFC lightweight champion] B.J. Penn next?"

Perhaps the crowd's roar was a yes to his question, or maybe it was a bellow to UFC president Dana White to bring a pay-per-view event to town.

Either way, with a sellout and record-setting gate, consider the UFC's coming-out party in Fairfax a smashing success.