WEST JORDAN, Utah — For millions of mixed martial arts fans, television is the only way they get to enjoy the fights they love.
The UFC can't stage a show in every city that loves one of the fastest growing sports in the country, so officials are doing the next best thing: They're bringing the UFC to fans.
This summer the UFC will hold events in hundreds of cities across the U.S. that will give fans a way to connect with the athletes they admire. This Saturday at Elite Performance Center located 7932 S. 1530 West, in West Jordan, Utah, UFC fighter and Utah native Demarques Johnson will sign autographs, pose for pictures and shake hands with fans while UFC staff offer a simulated MMA experience.
"There will be mock weigh-ins, going through a workout, pretty much everything we do to get ready for a fight," said Johnson. "They'll have a semi truck full of cool memorabilia that goes back 18 years. There will be a lot of things you don't naturally get to see in a 15-minute fight."
Johnson said connecting with fans is one of best aspects of the UFC.
"How many church basketball players get to rub elbows with the Utah Jazz players in a Utah Jazz environment?" said the Kearns High alum. "That's how MMA is so different as far as we are more accessible than your average multimillionaire rookie-that-doesn't-play-that-often basketball player.
There is no charge for the event that begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., and more information can be found at The Elite Performance Center's website at www.eliteperformancegym.com.
Johnson didn't play high school athletics, but found his passion for MMA while serving eight years in the army.
"I was usually in too much trouble to play sports," he said. "I just watched (MMA) on TV."
Then one day some of the soldiers challenged him to a wrestling match.
"I ended up beating everyone sort of accidentally," said Johnson, who trains at the Elite Performance Gym with former UFC great Jeremy Horn.
The two met at a bar, and it was an encounter that would change the course of Johnson's life.
"I was in awe," he said of seeing Horn. "I walked up to him like a jittery sixth-grader and asked him for his autograph."
Horn gave him the address of the gym and told him to stop by for the autograph.
"I've been training with (Horn) ever since," he said. "I never looked back. It is my life. I have had my trials and tribulations in MMA, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Fighting in the UFC is definitely the best thing in my life."
Twitter: adonsports email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company