A cool, sunny day welcomed the grand opening of the new UFC Gym in Corona, Calif.
While the event wasn't actually set to begin until 10 a.m., many fans and spectators lined up as early as 8 a.m. to stand in line for autographs. And if that's not surprising enough, autograph sessions weren't expected to even begin until noon.
Vendors and nutrition companies lined one side of the parking lot by a modest stage where the ribbon-cutting was set to take place.
Though definitely a far cry from the size and number of booths at the famous UFC Expos, the vendors and businesses there were more than enough. And, as always, there were more than enough of those annoying handouts to go around.
The gym itself was actually smaller than I imagined it would be, but that's likely more my faulty expectations than a reflection on the gym itself. In fact, it's roughly 45,000 square feet; not small by any standards.
Also, this is the third UFC Gym, and the largest of the three. There was more than enough space for several rows of ellipticals, treadmills and other heart-pounding, sweat-inducing machines for members to use.
The staff and a few members gave a quick circuit demonstration with five stations, showing how even a 25-30 second rotation can give an intense workout. By the end of the two-and-a-half minute demonstration, all members were sweaty and visibly worn out.
That's the kind of intensity that is foreign and fascinating to many outside of the sport, and can now take part in it through the gym.
You know you're in an MMA gym when you find equipment and machines that look like they've been taken straight out of someone's backyard sitting in front of you, and yet, it strangely doesn't look out of place. Seriously, where else would you find a tire sitting in the middle of the floor?
On top of that, there was a Jacob's Ladder right next to some treadmills and a rope workout machine that simulates the climbing rope they made you climb back in gym class in the '80s.
You see these types of workout machines in specialized workout videos and late-night infomercials, but I've never seen them up close. They'd definitely provide a cool, innovative workout.
And if that's not a big enough giveaway to the kind of gym you are in, sitting dead-center in the gym is, of course, an Octagon.
However, the biggest difference that separates the UFC Gym from an ordinary gym is its family and community focus.
Several kids who were taking classes at the UFC Gym walked into the cage in the afternoon, giving spectators a demonstration of the moves they had been learning.
There are self-defense classes for men, women and children. And the gym has a section devoted for kids called, well, "Kid's Gym."
This focus on families and communities goes all the way to the top. As it says on the UFC Gym's Senior Vice President Adam Sedlack's Twitter page, the gym is "A new place in the fitness industry. Not your Parent's Gym; It's your Gym!"
In a brief conversation with Adam, I was amazed about how passionate he was not only about the business aspect of the gym, but its significance to the community and ability to affect peoples' opinions of the sport.
Through their UFC viewing parties (free, of course, for members) during some of the recent fights, people unfamiliar with the sport have gotten to see it for the very first time.
And because of the classes and opportunities provided by the gym for these newcomers to take part in some of the intense workouts and training like that of UFC fighters, many have become instant fans.
One of the awaited events of the day was BJ Penn's mysterious announcement that would be given during the first media interview in the morning.
And his announcement was consistent with the theme of the UFC's increasing involvement within local communities through their UFC Gyms.
BJ Penn announced that construction will begin on a UFC Gym in his native Hawaii, and will be branded with his name.
UFC Gym: BJ Penn should be completed by Jan. 1, 2012, with facilities comparable to that of the one in Corona. It will be replacing the famed "Pipeline Cafe" in Honolulu, which closed its doors in early February of this year.
This is a project that has been two years in the making, and will be the first UFC Gym branded with a fighter's name.
"I'm trying to be humble and sit here and take it all in, but I'm very, very excited by this whole thing."
BJ also mentioned that efforts will be discussed to reach out to at-risk youth through the gym and its programs.
Fighter interviews from Phil Davis, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, and more from BJ Penn will be covered in Pt. 2. This will include additional photos and videos.
Look for it tomorrow!
For more of my work, click here.