TORONTO — Former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said a lot of interesting things during his time in Toronto. Sometimes even related to basketball.
One of his more memorable yarns was, if he put his starting centre Rafael Araujo in a room with a chicken, and then ordered Araujo to catch the chicken, Araujo would chase the chicken down until he caught it. No matter how long it took.
Mitchell’s point was that Araujo may not have been the greatest basketball player in the world, but he always worked hard and never gave up.
Of course, there were plenty of times Mitchell would have liked to have wrapped a chicken around Araujo’s neck ... but that’s neither here or there.
What is here and there is UFC president Dana White, chasing his own chicken (so to speak).
Years ago, recognizing Ontario, specifically Toronto, as a potential gold mine for mixed martial arts, White began working in earnest to bring the sport to these parts.
The problem is, the Ontario government considers mixed martial arts to be an illegal activity, as interpreted under section 83 of the criminal code, even though most of the other provinces don’t interpret it that way. But that hasn’t stopped White from pulling out all the stops, and he vowed again on Wednesday that he will never give up the fight.
“I’m going to keep hammering and hammering until we get it done,” White told QMI Agency from his office in Las Vegas. “You mark my words, it’s eventually going to happen.”
White spoke ahead of this Saturday’s WEC featherweight headliner between Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber, which is available on Viewer’ s Choice pay-per-view, and UFC 113, which will be held on May 8 in Montreal. UFC 113 will be the third event in as many years in Montreal, which has sold out the Bell Centre every time within minutes of the tickets going on sale. Vancouver will host UFC 115 on June 12 at General Motors Place and White said that they’re going to Edmonton after that.
Basically, it’s the same old story. Toronto is most populace city in Canada and supposedly the financial, media and entertainment capital, but when it comes to hosting major events, which generate tens of millions dollars for the local economy, the city’s record is pathetic.
Think about it. Toronto never has played host to an Olympic Games.
Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver have.
Toronto has never hosted a World’s Fair.
Montreal and Vancouver have. Expo ’67 in Montreal is still considered the most successful ever, attracting more than 50 millions visitors.
And now Toronto’s missing the boat on UFC, which while certainly not up there in terms of prestige with an Olympics or World’s Fair, but still generates millions of dollars.
White said he can envision holding a show once a year in Toronto, and selling out the Air Canada Centre every time. Perhaps even the Rogers Centre.
“People start coming in for a UFC event on the Thursday, from all over the world, and it doesn’t end until Sunday,” he said. “It’s huge, man. Ask people in Montreal what it’s like for them. I’m telling you, go to Montreal, it’s insane. It’s people cruising around, having a great time, eating in restaurants, shopping ...”
The last major untapped markets for UFC in North America are New York and Ontario, and White predicted that a show will be held in the Big Apple before the year is out, leaving Ontario as the last major holdout. UFC shows have also been held in London, Cologne, Sydney, Australia, Dublin, Belfast, Manchester, to name a few. Even the Middle East.
And yet, the Ontario government is afraid that our sensibilities will be offended if two guys kick and punch each other inside a ring, even though the punching part is perfectly legal.
Toronto used to be a pretty decent boxing town, but one of the main reasons why interest in boxing has plummetted is because the province, through its athletic commission, has made it almost impossible to put on a successful show, with prohibitive up-front costs and unrealistic safety standards. And if MMA does come to Ontario, no doubt the sport will be supervised by Ontario’s notoriously strict athletics commission. But not even that will distract White.
“That’s the crazy part,” he said. “We’re asking them to regulate us. We’re not just trying to come up there and take over.”
The outspoken White plans to be in Toronto prior to UFC 113 to further spread the gospel. He’s like a dog on a bone. Or a Brazilian basketball player on a chicken.