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Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Leon Cook/Stars and Stripes)

Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Leon Cook/Stars and Stripes)

Robert Whittaker, who is ranked No. 1 in Ultimate Fighting Championship's middleweight class, poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Robert Whittaker, who is ranked No. 1 in Ultimate Fighting Championship's middleweight class, poses with Tech. Sgt. John Shirley at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Leon Cook/Stars and Stripes)

Alistair Overeem, who is ranked No. 1 in Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight class, chats with airmen at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Alistair Overeem, who is ranked No. 1 in Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight class, chats with airmen at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Leon Cook/Stars and Stripes)

Red Dela Cruz, an Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon girl, poses with airmen at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Red Dela Cruz, an Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon girl, poses with airmen at the Samurai Cafe at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Leon Cook/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Servicemembers at Yokota got a chance to meet, greet and eat with Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes on Thursday at an on-base chow hall.

Samurai Café lunchgoers were surprised to see some of the top ultimate fighters mingling at the western Tokyo air base’s main dining facility ahead of a UFC Fight Night event slated for Saturday at Saitama Super Arena north of the capital.

Alistair Overeem, Robert Whittaker and Joseph Benavidez — ranked No. 1 respectively in UFC’s heavyweight, middleweight and flyweight categories — joined UFC Hall of Famer Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira in signing autographs and chatting with the troops. “You cannot imagine the morale boost when you see, in the flesh, the people you’ve been rooting for on TV,” said Col. Kenneth Moss, 374th Airlift Wing commander.

Octagon girl Red Dela Cruz also signed autographs and posed for photographs with fans. Octagon girls carry a card indicating which round is in progress during bouts.

“I’m really excited to meet these professional fighters,” said Tech. Sgt. John Shirley, dining facility manager. “The dedication they put into honing their skills is awe-inspiring.”

After lunch, the fighters toured the base and met more servicemembers along the way.

“Our airmen have come out to get a piece of Americana that they miss,” Moss said. “We’re out here 12 hours away from all the things and people that we love from America, and it’s great when America comes to visit us.”

cook.leon@stripes.com Twitter: @LeonCook12

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