MMA: Fans get a kick out of free, open workouts before UFC Fight Night 139 in Mile High City

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Mike Perry will face Denver-raised Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at Fight Night, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the UFC's first show.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Mike Perry will face Denver-raised Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at Fight Night, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the UFC's first show.PHOTOS: FACEBOOK/PLATINUM MIKE PERRY, FACEBOOK/DONALD COWBOY CERRONE

DENVER - The metronomic thuds of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Mike Perry's fists hitting pads reverberated through the Exdo Event Centre in Denver, Colorado on Wednesday (Nov 7) evening.

Until a lone voice from the crowd of spectators pierces through the routine. "Cowboy's gonna kick your head off, Perry, and I'm gonna catch it!"

Cue muffled giggles from the over 100 spectators that attended the open workouts, ahead of the UFC Fight Night 139 event in the Mile High City on Saturday (Nov 10).

But barely a reaction from Perry, who faces Denver-raised Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at Fight Night, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the UFC's first show.

A couple of minutes later, as Perry demonstrated his ground game, swiftly locking his training partner in a rear naked choke, he was interrupted again.

"You ain't gonna do that to Cowboy... He's too good!" yelled the same heckler, this time drawing louder laughs.

At the end of his 10-minute training routine, though, Perry showed he was not too rattled when he grabbed a microphone and thanked the crowd, joking that he appreciated them "except for that guy".

Later, he told the media scrum, with a smile: "That goes with the show man. That guy was doing good for the fans by heckling me like that, he got my energy going."

The heckler, 36-year-old Zach Whetstine, said his jeers for Perry were all in good fun.

"I'm just here to support Cowboy," said the animal control officer. "Since I'm here, I get the chance to razz his opponent, too, but it's all about him (Cerrone)."

Whetstine clearly had a good time. After all, the premise of UFC open workouts is simple: Give the local fans a show.

Free and open to the public, the sessions – which take place even when Fight Night moves to places like Singapore, which hosted Cerrone on June 23 – give the athletes a chance to engage their supporters.

At Wednesday's workout, Mexican fighter Yair Rodriguez - who faces South Korean Jung "Korean Zombie" Chan-sung in Saturday's main event - invited a compatriot he had spotted donning an El Tri jersey, on stage, and challenged him to do some flying kicks.

And women's bantamweight Raquel Pennington - who will face Germaine de Randamie - picked two young children from the crowd and taught them the basics of how to throw a punch and a kick.

This level of close interaction between athlete and ardent admirer is unusual for top-level sport and the accessibility has undoubtedly helped popularise the UFC over the years. 

Most fighters go through a regular routine of striking and grappling drills, but, with weigh-ins usually a day or two later and with most cutting weight - some up to 15kg - to meet their weight-class limits, some decide to change tack.

Cerrone admitted as much when he chose not to do a workout, instead offering to talk, take pictures and sign autographs for fans.

"Just being lazy, that's all... Nothing to it," the 35-year-old, who is tied with Georges St Pierre and Michael Bisping for the most number of UFC wins (20), explained afterwards.

Whatever they get from their favourite fighters, there is little doubt the open workouts are a hit with the fans.

Even an hour before the workouts began yesterday, a line of about 15 people had already formed outside the venue, despite the dry, desert Colorado air and chilly 6 deg C weather.

Said 23-year-old Denver native Brandon Lynn: "It's always great when the UFC is in town and we get to see the fighters up close at things like the open workouts.

"So, whenever the UFC is in Denver, I'm here. I also go to some of their events in Texas if I am able to."