November 4, 2010
UFC hoping Toronto's just the first step
By DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency
Toronto might be the UFC's belle of the ball but that doesn't mean the mixed-martial-arts company isn't looking at other Canadian dance partners.
Heck, even Hamilton, long considered Canada's ugly duckling, has caught the UFC's wandering eye.
Although an event in Toronto is the priority now, the UFC would like to expand to other parts of the country. Montreal and Vancouver are the only Canadian cities that have hosted UFC events, but that will probably change before long.
"One of the great things we've got going for us is our sport displays well in hockey arenas and, last time I checked, there are a few of them in this country," Tom Wright, the UFC's director of Canadian operations, said Thursday. "We're looking at, down the road, being able to bring (events) into other communities like a Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, Hamilton, Winnipeg.
"I was talking to some folks from Winnipeg (Wednesday). The MTS Centre would be a terrific venue."
Wright pointed out that events is some of Canada's smaller cities wouldn't be full pay-per-view cards, more likely Fight Night cards. Those events feature bouts between up-and-coming fighters and air on free television.
First up, though, is a full-blown UFC event in Toronto. When, and where, that's going to happen is still up in the air but rumours of an April date have been heating up the Internet.
"We would love to be in a position where we can make an announcement by the end of the year," Wright said. "In an ideal situation, late spring or early summer (is possible) for the first event in Toronto. But if it has to be later, it has to be later. We're all about doing this right, it's not about how fast we can do it."
Talk is that the company would love to break the North American attendance record set at UFC 97 in Montreal and president Dana White believes there is a market to do it in Toronto.
Wright wouldn't tip his hand when asked about which Toronto venue -- the cavernous Rogers Centre, which can hold upwards of 65,000, or the 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre -- the UFC was considering.
"We've done site visits with both," Wright said. "Both venues are really well run, really well operated. They are terrific venues. It's a question of date availabilities and how we want to manage this first event.
"If we did go to the Rogers Centre we want to make sure we configure it so it's as intimate as possible. It's tough to be intimate in a stadium that seats 60,000. But I think there are ways you can do it.
"Doing an event at the ACC would be very turn-key. They know how to do it, we know how to do it in those kinds of venues. Rogers Centre would be some new territory for us."
Even though the main hurdle to bringing a UFC show to Toronto has been cleared -- approval for the sanctioning of MMA, which came in mid-August -- there is still some work to be done before an event gets the go-ahead. The Ontario Athletic Commission, which regulates all combat sports in the province, still needs to put the ground rules in place.
"The government has sanctioned it, that's step No. 1, Wright said. "Step No. 2 is getting all the regulatory work in place. (The OAC has) been at it since the end of August so we're hopeful that we'll be in a position before the end of the year to make an announcement."
When word of a Toronto show does come, it will be well received by the UFC stable of fighters, according to heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
"It's exciting that the sport is opening up everywhere," said Velasquez, in Toronto for a slew of media events. "Slowly it's growing everywhere, it's evolving and getting popular everywhere. That's good for us, that's good for everybody.
"There are great MMA fans here. It's definitely a great following here, great fans. It's a good place to fight."