Local UFC fan allowed to put belt around GSP

Lucas Punkari

Just getting the chance to head down to the UFC 129 event in Toronto was big enough for local MMA fan Trevor Fitzgerald.
But to end up putting the UFC welterweight championship belt on his favourite fighter, Canada’s own Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, in the middle of the octagon made the entire event even more surreal.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something that I’ll never forget,” said Fitzgerald, who by day is a vice-president of personal insurance at Gillons‘ Insurance here.
“I thought maybe this whole thing would be something that just MMA fans, my buddies, and my co-workers would be interested in, but everyone’s really interested in the story,” he noted.
“My daughter watched it with me last night [Sunday] and she thinks this type of thing is normal.”
Fitzgerald wasn’t even planning attending the sold-out show at the Rogers Centre this past Saturday, but that all changed when he and his friend, Jeff Wright, who got Fitzgerald hooked on the sport three years go, won an all-expense paid trip to Toronto in a draw held April 23 at Boston Pizza here.
“My daughter, Emily, had a ballet recital the same day as the show, so I wasn’t planning on going down for the show,” Fitzgerald explained.
“But after I got my name pulled out as the lucky winner at Boston Pizza, my wife, Corrina, basically said, ‘Well, obviously, you’re just destined to go to this,’” he added.
Before the pay-per-view event itself on Saturday night, Fitzgerald headed to the UFC Fan Expo on Friday at the Direct Energy Show, which was where a fan question-and-answer session with UFC president Dana White was taking place.
“I wanted to attend that because oftentimes Dana answers questions from the fans that normally wouldn’t get asked by the general media, so I waited in line for a half-hour just to get inside and then waited another half-hour in line just to ask my question,” he recalled.
Having thought over what he would say to White if he had the chance, Fitzgerald decided he to ask the UFC’s head honcho if he could place the championship belt around St-Pierre’s waist if he retained the welterweight championship over challenger Jake Shields in Saturday’s main event.
“I had seen previous Q&A’s where fans would make some unusual requests, such as ‘Can I meet the octagon girls?’ and things like that, so when I asked the question, I thought I had a shot at it,” Fitzgerald reasoned.
Once he got to the podium, and after complimenting White on how he’s grown the UFC into a multi-million dollar company, Fitzgerald cut to the chase.
“I said to him, ‘However, there is one thing that you’re really lousy at,’ which got everyone’s attention, including his, and he looked me at with those piercing eyes that he has that intimidated me, to be honest” Fitzgerald admitted.
“I told him that I had noticed that in championship matches, he [White] struggles a great deal with putting the belt around the champ after the end of the fight, to which he smiled and nodded at right away.
“So I said, ‘After GSP beats down Jake Shields, I would like the honour of putting the belt around GSP,’ which got a huge response from the crowd,” Fitzgerald added.
After the cheering had died down, White gave his response.
“At first he tried to defend himself as to why he has so much trouble, and he talked about how they have a different manufacturer and strap now for the belts itself,” Fitzgerald noted.
“Then he said, ‘It’s really tough for me to bring you in the ring like that, and then to get you in the ring to put the belt onto the champ, but the heck with it, I’ll do it,” added Fitzgerald, who conceded White had used a little bit more colourful language than that.
From there, Fitzgerald was put into contact with Tom Page, the UFC’s director of security, as to how to get him from his seat in Section 130 down to ringside for the main events of Saturday’s card.
It was just before the second-last match of the night (the featherweight title bout between champion Jose Aldo of Brazil and Canadian challenger Mark Hominick) that the time came for Fitzgerald to make his way down to the floor, when he unfortunately had to leave Wright behind.
“The night before the fight, we were told that we would both be headed down to the ringside, but when they came up, they said there was no room to have him [Wright] come down with me, which they were right about,” Fitzgerald remarked.
Once he got ringside, Fitzgerald had a chance to sit between White and his wife, Anne, along with UFC Hall-of-Famer Chuck Liddell, to watch the featherweight title clash.
“They were all really nice people to talk and hang out with, and Dana really got a kick out of how small Fort Frances is,” Fitzgerald noted.
When the main event came around between St-Pierre and Shields, Fitzgerald was shuffled over three rows back (as another person had asked to sit with White for the welterweight title bout during the expo), where he was seated next to middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
“Anderson doesn’t speak very good English, so after I told him I was a huge fan, he shook my hand and bowed to me, so I sort of gave him a goofy, awkward bow back,” Fitzgerald recalled of meeting the Brazilian superstar.
Once the main event completed its scheduled five rounds, White walked over to the where Fitzgerald was sitting and told him to make his way towards the octagon.
“Before we went in, Dana was giving me some last-minute tips on how to put the belt on, even though I ‘made fun of him‘ the day before,” Fitzgerald said.
“Once I got the belt, I instinctively raised it above my head and some of the fans started to cheer a little bit, so I kind of wanted to walk around the octagon a little bit.
“But by that point, Dana was smiling and laughing at me, saying, ‘Calm down, buddy.’
“He understood that I was savouring the moment, but at the same time it’s not about me, I was just lucky to be there in the first place,” Fitzgerald admitted.
“It’s all about the fighters, so I just behaved myself and stood in the background,” he stressed.
As ring announcer Bruce Buffer told the crowd the scores from the three judge at ringside, who awarded the fight to St-Pierre in an unanimous decision, it was time for Fitzgerald’s moment of truth—even if he tried to rush it a little bit.
“You’re actually supposed to wait until Bruce makes the official announcement, but I was just thinking about making sure that I didn’t mess this up,” Fitzgerald explained.
“I was inching towards GSP when Dana stopped me to hold me back. And once the announcement was made, he let me go.
“GSP had his right hand down, but once I moved it out of the way, I didn’t have any problems, so I got lucky with that,” he reasoned.
“If you look at how Dana put the belt on Jose Aldo after the featherweight fight, I think I did a much better job than he did putting the title around his waist,” Fitzgerald said.
“So if he wants some help for the next few title fights, he can give me a call if he wants to,” he joked.
Once he placed the belt around St-Pierre’s waist, and gave the champ a congratulatory pat on the back, Fitzgerald’s time in the octagon was over. But that certainly hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm to make it to another UFC card before the end of the year.
“It’s fun watching it on television but to see it live is something else,” Fitzgerald enthused.
“They do a really great job at setting up those events, and I absolutely want to get to another one before the year is over,” he stressed.