Jan 16

Fans flock to Gwinnett Arena to see UFC


By: Brandon Brigman 

Published: January 16, 2014

DULUTH — Eric Martin has been paying for UFC fights on Pay-Per-View for years.

So when the Snellville resident heard the Ultimate Fighting Championship was coming to Gwinnett County, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it in person.

Martin and his son Garrett were among 5,822 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Wednesday to watch UFC Fight Night 35.

“I’m a big UFC fan. I have been since the ’90s,” Martin said. “We buy all of the events.”

UFC Fight Night was the fifth time the UFC has been in Georgia. The first two times was in the infancy of the league in the mid-’90s at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I love UFC fights. I’ve been watching it since the beginning,” Clint Barlow said. “My dad rented the first one when we were kids and we watched it over and over. We’ve always been into it.”

Barlow and his brother Matt drove four hours from Moultrie in South Georgia to see the UFC in person.

“If it comes within a six-hour area, we’re going,” Clint Barlow said in his UFC hoody with his beer in his hand.

The UFC has grown to be one of the world’s most popular sports over the last decade. The reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter” has helped the sport’s popularity and stars like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Rampage Jackson have become household names.

“I didn’t really like it when it first started out,” Martin said. “It’s more of a sport now. It’s a lot easier to follow and they are great athletes.”

Philips Arena has been the host of the last two UFC events. Rashad Evans knocked out Liddell at UFC 88 in 2008 and Jon Jones beat Evans at UFC 145 in 2012. Both events drew nearly 15,000 fans.

“Our objective is to bring various types of live entertainment to the community, so having a reputable event, like UFC has been a great opportunity for us to gain national exposure for both our venue and Gwinnett County as a whole,” Gwinnett Center General Manager Joseph Dennis said.

The 10-bout card at the Gwinnett Arena featured two Georgia natives in Brian Houston and Cole Miller. Houston is a 2000 grad from Tri-Cities and Miller is from the Macon/Warner Robins area.

Houston lost a split decision that came to a round of boos from local fans to support the Riverdale native.

“It was surreal. I was so emotional,” Houston said of fighting in his home state. “I had to detach myself from everybody. I might have had a thousand notifications on my phone. That’s not an exaggeration.”

Cole Miller, a Mount de Sales Academy grad, used second round submission to win.

“I had friends, family, old coaches in attendance tonight and I’m glad they got to see that performance,” Miller said.