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UFC athletes trade kicks with Vancouver Whitecaps

The conditions at Thunderbrid Park were near perfect on Thursday as UFC athletes Paige VanZant, Carlos Condit and Kajan Johnson stepped out onto the field with Vancouver Whitecaps players Cole Seiler, Tim Parker and goalkeeper Spencer Richey to teach each other a little about their respective sports and have some fun.

Under clear, blue skies and with a summer breeze keeping things comfortable, the three fighters got their opportunity to live out their FIFA dreams (or nightmares) from the penalty spot. After some quick pointers on ball placement and proper kicking technique from Seiler and Parker, it was time to see if any of the fighters could put one into the back of the net.

After all three came up short on their first attempts – some faring better than others – Johnson drove home his second attempt to ensure that the UFC athletes didn’t go scoreless on the day.

“It was kind of like my MMA career,” joked the Canadian lightweight, currently riding a two-fight winning streak, but sidelined after suffering a shoulder injury last time out. “I had to do it wrong first and then figure out how to do it right.”

Condit, in town to promote his main event matchup with Demian Maia on next month’s UFC on FOX event at Rogers Arena, played soccer for a number of years growing up, but admitted he was largely confined to playing goalie because he was a little too aggressive out on the pitch.

“I went out and tried to crush the ball as hard as I could with zero mind paid to accuracy or finesse,” offered the former interim welterweight champion, who launched his two attempts over the crossbar.

Then it was time to switch roles, with the fighters serving as instructors, holding pads as they showed their MLS counterparts how to throw a roundhouse kick, a well-executed knee and a three-punch combination finished with a kick to the body.

Much like when Donald Cerrone and Misha Cirkunov did the same with players from the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks prior to their fights in the Nation’s Capital last month, the opportunity to learn a few moves from a collection of UFC fighters brought out the energy in Richey, Seiler and Parker, even though they had just finished going through a full practice before VanZant, Condit and Johnson stepped on the field.

“Soccer is not something that you can just step right into,” said Richey, being kind in his assessment of the penalty kicks that came his way. “Ball-striking and using your feet is quite unique compared to other sports, although I don’t know if we were much better hopping into their techniques, so to each his own.

“I think it’s the ultimate weapon in your back pocket, so to speak – that you feel you can defend yourself if need be,” added the keeper on the interest everyone seems to have when it comes to picking up a few pointers from the athletes that make their living inside the Octagon. “Boxing is a bit more formal, but I feel like there is a bit more freedom to MMA. It’s definitely fun to watch and got a little taste of it today.

“Hopefully I never have to use any of those moves during a game.”

“Everyone has a lot of fun at these things,” said VanZant, who takes on Bec Rawlings as part of the August 27 fight card at Rogers Arena. “I love when we get to familiarize ourselves with other athletes in other sports because we’re all athletes and we’re all going through the same things physically and emotionally, so it’s great to cross paths and interact.

“They looked great,” she added of the Whitecaps players’ work on the pads. “Obviously they’re athletes so they had a lot of coordination and they were able to pick up the movements really quickly.”

UFC on FOX: Maia vs. Condit takes place on Saturday, August 27 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Tickets are on sale now.

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