Canadian fighters look to make their mark as UFC touches down in Ottawa


OTTAWA — It’s a golden opportunity for Elias Theodorou.

The Toronto middleweight takes on American Derek Brunson in the co-main event at a televised UFC card at the Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday night. A win could vault Theodorou into the top 10 in his weight class.

“I just celebrated my fifth year in the UFC so it’s really exciting. I didn’t step into a mixed martial arts gym until I was 21 and now in less than 10 years I may be able to crack the top 10,” said Theodorou, who became the first Canadian to win “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2014.

“I feel great where I am and the aspect of hitting that 10-year mark, getting the 10,000 hours, I feel better than ever. If you look at it, this is my 20th professional fight (he’s 17-2 and has won his last three fights) and the aspect of becoming a veteran means you have a lot of experience. This has been the best training camp of my life.”

Theodorou leads a big Canadian contingent into the card in the nation’s capital.

Winnipeg’s Brad Katona, another Canadian winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” faces American Merab Dvalishvili.

The 2018 TUF winner is undefeated in nine professional bouts.

“When I was five years old I was a big fan of the Power Rangers and so I went into karate and decided that if I was going to do anything then I was going to do it to the best of my ability,” Katona, 27, said.

Katona was a black belt by age 14. He was a Manitoba chess champion and he has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Manitoba.

Katona moved to Ireland in 2017 to hone his MMA craft under John Kavanagh, who boasts Conor McGregor as one of his students.

“I was there a month, and then I got called for “The Ultimate Fighter.” You make that big commitment to move and then things start happening. I moved in November 2017 and by January 2018 I was in The Ultimate Fighter House and then July was the finale (in Las Vegas),” Katona said.

“Opportunities have been coming up since.”

Speaking of opportunities, Marc-Andre Barriault of Quebec City will be making his UFC debut against fellow middleweight Andrew Sanchez of New Jersey.

“I was a champion at TKO (MMA), a champion in the middleweight and lightweight divisions and I have a record of 11 wins and one loss with eight knockouts and that’s what allowed me to get the attention of the UFC,” Barriault said, adding he feels he represents a new wave of Quebec fighters.

“We have some of the older fighters that have retired like Georges (St-Pierre), Patrick Cote, so I fell like I’m part of the revival 2.0 of these athletes.”

Eleven Canadians are on the card, including Sarah Moras of Kelowna, B.C. Moras faces Macy Chiasson of New Orleans.

“I got into the sport when I was 18 because I just wanted to get in shape,” Moras said. “I wanted to be a forest firefighter but I was too young to apply so I thought I’d get in shape. The first class I went to was jiu-jitsu and that got me hooked from Day 1.

“I’m not interested in doing that anymore. I just want to fight.”

Darren Desaulniers, The Canadian Press