There will no shortage of love for (Smilin') Sam Alvey and Wes (Nile) Swofford in their Maximum Fighting Championship middleweight title fight Friday.
Both of their wives will be ringside, working in their corners at "MFC 40: Crowned Kings" at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.
Saskatoon's Kurt Southern (13-5) takes on Tom Gallicchio (18-8) of Temecula, Calif., for the MFC lightweight championship in the other co-main event Friday.
Gallicchio defeated Southern at MFC 39 via second-round submission but was ruled ineligible for the belt after weighing over the 155-pound limit. Under MFC rules, Southern got an automatic title-fight rematch despite the loss.
Brittany (McKey) Sullivan, Alvey's wife, has cornered her husband from Day 1 and trains herself.
"She's probably cornered more people than I have. She's in the hundreds and she understands it (the sport)," said Alvey (21-4). "She has the best hand-wrap in MMA."
Sullivan has a few other irons in the fire. Winner of Cycle 11 of "America's Next Top Model," she is a model and mother. Alvey, who turned 28 Tuesday, predicts she will also be a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu "before long."
It will be the first time in the corner for Swofford's wife Salena.
"I told her on my next fight out of the country, I was going to make sure I was going to take here no matter where it was," Swofford explained.
He was unable to bring her to his first MFC fight in February 2013 or his last fight, in Poland in April 2013.
This fight offered a chance to make amends, with an expanded corner crew allowed for title fights. So Swofford (9-4) suggested she be one of them, rather than sit in the crowd.
"She wanted to do it right away," he said. "She thought it was a great idea."
No one is sure whether having both wives corner their fighter is a first. Usually combatants rely on coaches or training partners for advice between rounds or instructions from the sidelines during the fight.
"I think it's wonderful," said Alvey. "The more women we can get into this sport, the bigger this sport is going to be."
Training partner Bill Widler was going to corner him as well but he was summoned to fight Victor Valimaki on Friday's card and may not be able to help depending on the bout lineup. Swofford will have the help of coach Jim Howard, from their Redding Submission gym in California, and another training partner.
Will his wife say much during the bout?
"She'll be doing some encouraging," he said. "She'll be the timekeeper as well."
Alvey and his wife are connected to the sport in more ways than one. He proposed to her in the cage, in the aftermath of a crushing 2010 loss to Gerald Meerschaert when he was submitted 24 minutes eight seconds into the Combat USA title fight.
"After he had his hand raised, I dropped to a knee and proposed to my wife," Alvey said.
They have been together before he started fighting.
"She got into it because if I said she was (in) my corner, it was a free ticket," said Alvey, a Wisconsin native who has a scheduled rematch with Meerschaert on May 31 in Milwaukee.
Sullivan, who has two degrees and is about to start her doctorate, then set her sights on earning that ticket by learning all she could about the sport. And she has been at his side for all of his amateur and pro MMA fights, as well as kickboxing and Pankration bouts.
"Now she's the most valuable member of my team," he said. "She runs my corner, she helps run my training camp. Together we strategize for how we want to beat whoever I'm fighting."
The couple have a 11-month-old daughter named Reagan.
"Any time that's offered, she still travels around the world with her modelling but now she's got a baby on her hip too."
Swofford made his MFC debut on six days notice in February 2013, upsetting favourite Jay Silva via a 41-second TKO.
Alvey, meanwhile, lost his MFC debut to Elvis Mutapcic at MFC 36 in February 2013 before posting wins at MFC 37 and 38. He credits the Mutapcic loss for teaching him to change strategies on the fly.
"My all-round MMA game's better than most," he said. "I should rely on it more."
Many fight fans were first introduced to Alvey's omnipresent smile on Season 16 of "The Ultimate Fighter." He was coach Shane Carwin's first pick but lost a majority decision to Joey Rivera in his first bout on the reality TV show and never made it to the UFC.
He has fought in Bellator and a variety of other promotions, however, before finding a championship home in the MFC.
Alvey, whose weight can get up to 220 pounds when not fighting, says he made a mistake trying out for the show at welterweight (170 pounds).
"I should have just waited a season and done it at 185. After watching the 185(-pound) season, I would have beaten all those guys."
'But the show served its purpose in terms of recognition.
"People know my smile more than they know my name," Alvey said, "And that's fine. To me it's one and the same. I smile a lot. I don't do it on purpose but it does happen and I'm very proud of the kind of fighter I am because of it.
"I'm a happy person, I've got a wonderful wife and if that's how people want to remember me, that's fine with me."
Alvey trains and works at the Team Quest gym in Temecula, Calif., where he runs the kids program and teaches a couple of fitness classes.
"But this really is my income," he said of fighting,
Swofford, whose day job is working for America's Tire, lives with Salena and two-year-old daughter Lilly in Redding, Calif., about two and a half hours north of Sacramento.
Swofford did some wrestling in junior high but got into MMA via amateur boxing after high school, training for a little more than a year before his pro MMA debut in April 2007.
The 27-year-old, who normally walks around at 210-215 pounds, has seven first-round finishes.
Some friends came up with Nile as his nickname (as in Wes Nile) and he happily stuck with it, having had a variety of amateur boxing promoters try to hang everything from The Gazelle to Pretty Boy Devil on him.
By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press