|UFC president Dana White knows what he needs to do to get a ban on mixed martial arts in Ontario lifted. (Dave Pollard/Slam! Sports)
Dana White knows exactly what it’s going to take to bring the UFC to Canada or, more specifically, Toronto.
The undivided attention of Dana White. And a little time.
“It’s going to take me focusing on Toronto,” the UFC president said following a press conference today in the city’s entertainment district to promote the upcoming welterweight title fight between Canadian Georges St-Pierre and Hawaiian BJ Penn, which will be held in Las Vegas Jan. 31. “It’s only a matter of time. I would never say anything is a given but how can we be denied?”
To this point, the UFC’s only Canadian live card was held in Montreal. In April, St-Pierre headlined UFC 83, an event that drew more than 21,000 to the Bell Centre. It was, according to the UFC, the largest paid audience in North America for a MMA event.
Other, smaller mixed martial arts outfits have gone into Quebec and Alberta.
But, with the Ontario Athletic Commission ruling that MMA bouts cannot be held legally in Ontario, the UFC has been shut out of Canada’s largest province. OAC commissioner Ken Hayashi says staging a MMA event is a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada, although the same code covers Quebec but is not enforced.
And that’s unfair, according to White.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in Toronto,” White continued. “We’ve got a (clean) nine-year record of health and safety. There is absolutely no reason for Canada to not accept this sport. There’s an education factor; we need to educate people.
“I’m going after Canada after (I get approval in) New York and Massachusetts. I’m attacking Canada. I’m going to spend so much time in Canada I’ll have to buy a house. I’m going to live here until it’s done. I’m going to be sitting on the porch every day they come to work.”
The UFC had similar difficulties breaking into the United States. It wasn’t immediately accepted by American regulatory bodies, in large part because it was originally billed as “no-holds-barred” but after creating a set of unified rules for MMA, that changed.
Now, the UFC is regulated and recognized by some of the biggest state athletic commissions in the U.S., including California, Nevada, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. New York and Massachusetts still will not sanction UFC events.
“It was worse in the United States (than Canada),” White said. “Not only did we have the negative things, we had the stigma attached to it. It’s a big difference.”
White, a brash and outspoken proponent of mixed martial arts who has rubbed some people the wrong way, believes UFC has an audience salivating at the prospect of attending a live event in Toronto. He says he got a taste of UFC’s popularity in Canada during UFC 91 last weekend in Las Vegas.
“Everybody I bumped into was from Canada,” he said, adding that having St-Pierre fight in Toronto is a no-brainer. “This fight (between St-Pierre and Penn) should have been in Toronto or Hawaii.
“Canada is a huge market for us. Toronto is the mecca, this is the place to be as far as MMA is concerned.”