Along with honing his striking and submission skills for the last few months, Ontario-born Mike Malott has taken the time to visualize the moment he steps into the cage at Rogers Arena on Saturday.
"I put a lot of time into this," he told media in a crowded room on Wednesday. "Visualizing what I think it's going to be like, what it's going to feel like, what it's going to sound like, what the air is going to feel like, what my skin's going to feel like.
"Once I get into the cage, that's when I just start feeling peace, that's when I feel calm," he added.
It's a serenity that's carried him through his nine professional mixed martial arts victories and earned him a marquee billing at UFC 289 — the fight promotion company's first Canadian event in more than four years.
Malott is among five Canadians featured on the Vancouver fight card, including Quebec's Marc-Andre Barriault and Aiemann Zahabi, and Ontario's Jasmine Jasudavicius and Kyle Neson.
"I'm just excited we're back in Canada, man," he said. "It's been years, this has been a dream of mine my entire fight career. Since before I got to fight professionally, I've always wanted to fight in the UFC at home in Canada, in front of wild Canadian fans."
The event is headlined by a women's bantamweight championship fight between the defending Amanda Nunes and her challenger Irene Aldana.
Canada not 'hostile territory'
While no fighters from B.C. are competing on the Vancouver card, Malott's opponent Adam Fugitt argues he has closer ties to the region than the Canadian.
Fugitt, who is from Portland, said he doesn't feel like he's the villain.
"I've fought up here a couple of times in my amateur days," he said. "I'm from the Pacific Northwest."
He said if he does draw the ire of fans while walking to the cage, he plans to win them over with an entertaining win.
"I go in getting boo'd and I leave getting the applause and some respect, and that's all I can ask for."
Meanwhile, middleweight Erik Anders, who will fight Quebec's Barriault, said he doesn't think Canadian fans will be particularly disrespectful to competitors who are fighting the homecrowd favourites.
"I really wouldn't call Canada hostile territory," said Anders. "I fought in Brazil — that's a hostile territory. I fought in Toronto ... they were super friendly. I don't remember getting boo'd, or them telling me I was going to die."
Canada's martial arts future
While mixed martial arts remains popular in Canada, there's yet to be a high-profile fighter to fill the void left behind by Georges St. Pierre, the two-division UFC champion widely considered one of the best to ever compete in the sport, who retired in 2019.
Malott says it recently dawned on him that he's among the crop of veteran Canadian fighters that up-and-comers are looking up to.
"I want Canadian MMA to really make a rise, and if I can play a part in that, especially on Saturday night, I'm more than happy to lead the charge and inspire the next generation."
As he attempts to climb up sport's ranks, Malott says there will be plenty others who will follow in his footsteps over the next few years.
"We're going to see a lot of new, young talent from Canada come into the show, because there are some absolute killers that no one knows yet, and they're just a few wins away from the UFC and they're gonna make some big waves," he said.