SPORTS

Prince Edward Island rallies behind UFC lightweight Jason Saggo

10/04/2014 07:01 EDT | Updated 12/04/2014 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Jason Saggo hears it wherever he goes, from the grocery store to the gas station. Prince Edward Island is behind him.

"They're very supportive of MMA and they want to see a local do well, an East Coaster competing in the big show and being successful," said the 28-year-old lightweight.

So far, so good.

Saggo (10-1) won his UFC debut over Josh Shockley via first-round TKO at UFC 174 in June. He returns to the cage Saturday night against Paul (The Irish Dragon) Felder in the UFC's first visit to Atlantic Canada.

Welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald, a native of Kelowna, B.C., fighting out of Montreal, takes on American-based Belgian Tarec (Sponge) Saffiedine in the main event of the televised card.

Saggo says his UFC jitters are behind him, which wasn't the case when he walked into Vancouver's Rogers Centre first time round.

"I couldn't even see in front of me. The lights were so bright, I was like 'What's going on? This is like surreal.' It was almost like a dream.

"Now I know exactly what to expect. I know there's going to be tons of cameras there. I know what it's like to walk into a stage filled with thousands and thousands of people. So mentally I'm definitely more prepared for that this time."

And once the cage door closes, he knows what to do after months of training.

"I'm no longer thinking any more. My body takes over."

Saggo, who is on a five-fight win streak, is one of nine Canadians on the card. But only he and late injury replacement Chris (The Greek Assassin) Kelades, a flyweight from nearby Cole Harbour, call Atlantic Canada home.

Saggo is actually from Bolton, Ont., but moved to P.E.I., to follow coach Paul Abel. The two had worked together at Abel's previous gym in Bolton.

The 46-year-old Abel said he never expected Saggo to follow him east.

"I thought he was crazy. In a good way," Abel said with a laugh. "I thought it was fantastic. I was thrilled."

Travel is nothing new to Saggo.

After studying philosophy and psychology at the University of Guelph, he went to Thailand to study Muay Thai. After winning his first fight, he drove his motorcycle 5,000 kilometres across Thailand.

In 2008, he competed in an international grappling tournament in the Philippines. From there, it was on to Brazil to study Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

In 2010, Jason travelled to Japan to train with Kid Yamamoto. The next year, he went to Hawaii to study MMA at B.J. Penn's camp.

He has also gone to India to study yoga.

Abel, his wife and three kids had been looking at P.E.I., for about eight years but didn't relocate there until three years ago. He founded a new gym, Wulfrun MMA in Cornwall, P.E.I., and eventually sold his Ontario location.

The new gym is growing and Abel is already looking at a new expanded location.

A second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Abel oversees some 10 pro and six or seven amateur fighters as well as 80 students.

There is only one other MMA gym on the island, in Summerside.

Saggo, who lives 20 minutes north of Charlottetown, can't see himself being anywhere else.

"The people are amazing, so friendly," he said. "I love the people on the East Coast. They're super-friendly. You feel like everyone you talk to is your best friend."

Saggo says the training is excellent, with veteran Matt McGrath one of his main practice partners. And if they need someone different, they bring them in.

Felder (8-0) is making his UFC debut. The Philadelphia native has six knockouts to his credit.

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