To most fans, Patrick Cote is a welterweight that often gets lost in the shuffle. He is a fun fighter to watch, but not exactly must-see TV. Despite two world title shots during his on-again, off-again UFC career, he's never felt truly close to becoming a world champion; neither of his world championship opportunities proved competitive.
But to fans in Quebec, Cote is an icon. He's recognized on the streets and can't go far in Montreal without getting noticed.
While Georges St. Pierre chose to retire, the world of combat sports moves on in Montreal. For many, Cote is now the most prominent Quebec native competing in mixed martial arts. Rory MacDonald can live in Montreal as long as he'd like, but he'll never be one French Canadian and that's important in French culture. As the French Canadian culture continued to erode and be taken away, Canada's French population latch on to every victory they can get. If it's a middle-of-the-road UFC welterweight, so be it.
At UFC 186 when Cote fights in front of his hometown fans again, he's assured to get the loudest reaction of the night. He will take on veteran Joe Riggs, an undeniably curious signing by the UFC who has gone 0-1 since his return to the promotion.
A fight between the two was originally schedule during both Cote and Riggs' inaugural runs in the UFC in 2007, but it never materialized. Now, eight years later the two will finally meet.
"Riggs is a veteran. He's a powerful striker, a vicious ground-and-pound guy, strong physically," Cote said, admirably. "We're both veterans so it's going to be a good fight."
Considering the struggles UFC 186 has seen over the past months, the pressure is on Cote and others to perform up to their potential. Three of the top five bouts on the card have been eliminated or altered in the past few weeks, leaving the event as a disheveled shell of what fans expected.
An injury to T.J Dillashaw saw his world title bout against Renan Barao nixed from the card, while a court order from Bellator eliminated Quinton ‘Rampage' Jackson from being able to compete on the event. Abel Trujillo was also scheduled to face Jon Makdessi on the main card, but an injury forced him off the card as well.
Despite all of this, Cote still finds himself on the undercard in a spot where he seems completely comfortable. Headlining the preliminary card means that Cote's bout will air live on French television for free, which will only help to build his stardom in Montreal.
"I don't pay attention to that," Cote says of his placement on the card. " I feel pretty comfortable at the spot that I have now, to be the main event of the prelim. "It's on the French broadcast that I work for so it's a good spot."
It's the kind of thinking any other North American fighter wouldn't consider. Being on pay-per-view means more big name sponsors and exposure, but Cote has been around long enough and built a niche market in Montreal, he doesn't need the exposure that comes with being broadcast on pay-per-view.
An investigation into Cote's stardom in Montreal only furthers his point. A shout jaunt through the television stations available on basic cable and you're likely to come across his smiling, rugged face. Appearing on multiple French television programs on a regular basis and on the verge of having his own television show, Cote has endeared himself to French Canadian fight fans as much as St. Pierre ever did.
"When Georges (St. Pierre) left, it hurt the MMA community in Quebec and Canada a bit," Cote said. "He was such a great ambassador for the sport, but I think the people still look on MMA very well. We have a good fan base; every time you fight in Montreal the crowd is just insane."
Through St. Pierre's success, as well as boxers like Adonis Stevenson, Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute, Montreal has become one of the more popular fight cities in North America. Firas Zahabi and the Tri-Star gym have harvested talent from across North America, and the many boxing gyms in the province have produced numerous world championship boxers.
The Montreal Canadiens remain the most popular sporting entity in Quebec, but combat sports have quickly snuck into the conversation over the past decade.
There's little coincidence that the smallest cultural community in North American latched onto the sport that is undeniable niche. In combat sports, French Canadians found themselves something that, like them, was fighting against the dying of the light.
And while Montreal is known for its beautiful architecture and unique foods, it can be as dangerous as any other major city. Many fighters speak of the bullying they received as kids and the necessity of learning how to fight. There's a grimy underbelly to Montreal that shines through in the fight game and has helped produce some of the best fighters on the planet.
The fighters of Montreal, like so many others, have been able to coax that youthful rage into successful fighting careers, and few have done it more successfully than Cote. Now as he approaches the twilight of his career, Cote is using his brain instead of his brawn.
At 35, Cote readily admits that fighting isn't his sole focus anymore. While he does take time off from his other obligations during fight camp, Cote has already begun to opportunities past the Octagon. He now runs two successful real estate companies, participates in the previously mentioned television shows and is involved in another company called Kore Fit Living.
"I have a lot of things going on outside of the cage," Cote says. "I have two businesses and I'm working a lot in television on French TV here in Montreal, but when I'm in training camp, I do this 100 per cent. It takes time and I had time now."
Cote says he still has his sights set on a world title run, but it's hard to believe him.
Even he must know that a fighter who isn't in the gym full-time won't reach the highest levels. The sport has evolved since the days when he began fighting.
That's not a fault against Cote, at his age and with his skill level, it's unlikely even working full-time would get him to that next level. He's preparing for life after fighting and doing this for the fun of it; there's nothing wrong with that.
"As long as I'm able to compete at this level and it's not dangerous for my health, I'll fight," Cote says. "I want to see my kids grown up. I want to be able to play with them. I've never been knocked out in my life; I've never been rocked. I'm looking forward to finishing my career like that. Maybe one day I'll wake up and I'll think I don't want to receive punches anymore in my face."
It's refreshing to see a fighter prepare for the post-fight world, one that hasn't put all of his proverbial eggs in one basket. He's living life, enjoys being a celebrity in his hometown and is ambitiously spreading the goodwill of mixed marital arts.
If anything, Cote should be an example for fighters to follow as they age. He's a good-looking guy who is well spoken in two languages and can attract attention. It almost seems silly for him to do anything besides be on television.
"One day maybe they won't like me in front of the camera anymore," Cote says, laughing. "The thing is I put my money in the right places and everything is going well."