HOUSTON -- The Toyota Center will be packed Saturday as tens of thousands of mixed martial arts fans scream and cheer for their favorite UFC fighters in 13 different bouts.

But Wednesday was a chance for just a few hundred to watch a few of the UFC s stars dance and shadow box on a padded concert stage.

The House of Blues hosted open workouts, essentially a photo-op, for fans and media from around the world.

UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and his challenger, former champion Junior Dos Santos, were among the fighters who mugged for the cameras, mingled with fans, signed autographs, and began a four-day media blitz that has become standard fare for the multi-million dollar organization now entering its 20th year.

I like everything about it, said Houston fan Eli Palomo who took the day off work for a chance to get his picture taken with the heavyweight champ. Every single thing you can think of from elbows to knees to kicking to everything.

Palomo also brought his wife who says she is a fan except when the fights get bloody.

I cover up my eyes when I see blood though, said Esmerelda Palomo. Oh I do. I very much do, which is why I close my eyes sometimes.

Since the Ultimate Fighting championship began in 1993, it has weathered criticism about the blood and the violence. But now highly regulated and officiated it boasts millions of fans all over the world as fighters compete in a variety of martial arts disciplines in what the UFC claims is a sport more dangerous than boxing.

Fan David Klen summed up the sport s popularity this way.

I've got it for you man, he said as he waited to meet Louisiana native Daniel Cormier who will square off Saturday against Roy Big Country Nelson. It's reality TV at its finest. It's real. It's as real as it gets man.

Weigh-ins are scheduled for Friday at the Toyota Center with the 13-card event beginning Saturday afternoon.

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