TORONTO - The Rogers Centre was bursting at the seams Saturday night as Toronto finally got its first taste of the UFC with North America’s biggest mixed martial arts event ever.
The action was fast and furious right from the opening bell. And before UFC 129 had even wrapped up, many of the 55,000 MMA fanatics who witnessed the historical card were wondering when the once banned sport would be back in town next.
“It’s pretty crazy!” longtime UFC fan Ryan Penney said of the spectacle.
Sitting 20 metres from the octagon, the 22-year-old looked around in awe at the giant screens in the packed house.
“The most amazing part is the size of the crowd,” Penney said.
He and others said the UFC could easily put on two events a year in Toronto with similar results.
The UFC has repeatedly tossed around the number 55,000, which is how many tickets were snatched up by fans around the world when they went on sale in February.
But the way UFC boss Dana White was handing out freebies around the city and during the fan expo at the Direct Energy Centre leading up to fight night, the final tally could easily be over 60,000.
The attendance more than triples the UFC’s previous record but falls just shy of the 68,000 who attended Wrestlemania in 2002.
However, the UFC set a new gate record of $11 million for the Rogers Centre.
And fans mostly had only positive things to say about the excitement that began days ago.
“It’s been a great week,” Dan Tremlbay, 35, shouted as music pumped from a sound system twice the size of what was used for the last AC-DC concert. “The UFC has done an awesome job!”
The Burlington man said White managed to deliver on his promise to ensure there wasn’t a bad seat in the venue.
“The setup is much better than I expected,” Tremblay said, adding he attended the record-setting WWE event nine years ago and visually UFC 129 was far more fan friendly.
The dome took a while to fill up, so the crowd seemed somewhat subdued during the undercard bouts, which were free on Facebook.
Those who arrived late missed a wicked spinning back fist by John Makdesi that scored Canada’s first win.
Soon after the devastating blow, the UFC president was on Twitter talking about the Halifax fighter.
“That’s gonna be tough to beat for knockout of the night!!” White tweeted. The KO had everyone in the stadium on their feet.
“That was incredible!” Rob James, 37, said, as he watched the replay again and again on the massive cube hanging above the octagon — one of 14 huge screens hanging around the Rogers Centre.
“That’s what people are here to see,” the Brampton man added.
On a night filled with KOs and tap-outs, the Rogers Centre got louder and louder, especially the bouts involving Canadians.
By the time B.C.’s Rory MacDonald picked up Nate Diaz and slammed him down hard on the mat for a third time, the crowd was so thunderous it seemed the retractable roof would pop right off.