MONTREAL – The Ultimate Fighting Championship has many celebrity fans from the world of professional sports. Athletes like Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Glen Davis and Shane Victorino, to name a few, are known for being huge supporters of mixed martial arts.
But of all the professional athletes that enjoy the UFC, former NHL defenceman and Stanley Cup champion Mathieu Dandenault is probably the biggest fan of all.
In fact, Dandenault is so involved in the sport he will be providing commentary for the French language broadcast of UFC 158 alongside Jean-Paul Chartrand Saturday at the Bell Centre.
“I’ll be cageside. I’m ecstatic,” Dandenault told Sportsnet.ca.
Patrick Cote, who fights Bobby Voelker on the preliminary card, usual provides analysis for the french broadcasts, but since he will be busy Dandenault has stepped in.
“(Cote) is fighting so I’ll be doing the analysis for the first part of the show until he comes back then we’re going to do it three ways,” Dandenault said. “I love covering (the UFC) and getting to know the fighters.”
The three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002) was introduced to the UFC in 1997 and has been a huge supporter of MMA ever since.
“I was playing in Detroit and went to see a show and it was UFC 9: Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn. It wasn’t the greatest of matches but I’ve been hooked ever since.”
On Wednesday, Dandenault took part in a Canadian celebrity athlete MMA seminar following the UFC 158 open workouts hosted by Georges St-Pierre’s trainer Firas Zahabi.
He along with fellow NHLers Denis Gauthier and Georges Laraque, CFL players Anthony Calvillo, Steve Charbonneau Luc Brodeur-Jordain, Etienne Boulay
and Olympians Marianne St. Gelais, Charles Hamelin, Isabelle Charest, Justyn Warner and Bruny Surin were taught various MMA techniques.
Of all the athletes Dandenault was clearly the best of the bunch. Not surprising since he trains regularly at the Tristar gym, home of GSP, Rory MacDonald and many of Canada’s top MMA talent.
The topic of fighting in the NHL has been a hot one of late and Dandenault, who fought seven times in his 13-season NHL career, believes fighting should eventually be taken out of the game.
“I think down the road you gotta look to maybe get rid of it,” he confessed. “What other major sport has fighting?”
Despite all the injuries in the NHL and the often brutal nature of hockey, Dandenault still believes MMA is the more dangerous sport.
“MMA by far, but what I like about MMA is the respect factor. It’s two combatants to see who’s got the better skills. … I think they’re the better athletes too. I have so much respect for MMA stars.”
Dandenault is excited for the main event between GSP and Nick Diaz, but like a true, hardcore MMA fan he is most excited about a preliminary bout between John Makdessi and Daron Cruickshank.