|MMA fighter Stephan Bonnar jokes around with a fan during a UFC 131 Fight Club Q&A at the Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver, B.C., Friday. UFC 131 goes Saturday night at the Rogers Arena. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI Agency)
VANCOUVER - It just might have been the most stunning backdrop for a weigh-in in the history of combat sports.
The UFC people — who do this kind of thing better than anybody — set up their scales on a stage in Jack Poole Plaza, just behind the 2010 Olympic cauldron, right beside picturesque Burrard Inlet, with Grouse Mountain in the background.
“Have you ever seen such a spectacular backdrop for a weigh-in?” asked Tom Wright, the Director of Operations for UFC Canada. “Holy s--t that is gorgeous.”
Quickly realizing he was being interviewed by a “family” newspaper, Wright amended his statement with: “Gosh darn, that is a spectacular background”, and then he had a good laugh.
You have to forgive the former CFL commissioner; the man works for Dana White, who drops F-bombs like a drunken sports writer — and there were plenty of those rolling around downtown Vancouver on Thursday night, what with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday and UFC 131 on Saturday — both at Rogers Arena.
One thing’s for certain. Toronto would never be able to provide as spectacular a backdrop for a media event, UFC or otherwise. But that certainly won’t stop the UFC from returning to the site of their most successful show ever, UFC 129, held on April 30 at the sold-out Rogers Centre.
In fact, Wright admitted prior to Friday’s weigh-ins for UFC 131, which will feature a heavyweight clash between Junior dos Santos of Brazil against American Shane Carwin (with the winner getting a date with UFC champion Cain Velasquez), that the UFC may be returning to Toronto as early as December. For sure, there will be a card in December either in Toronto, or at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“We’ll probably make that decision in the next week or so,” said Wright, adding that where they go depends on the card and venue availability.
“We’re trying to figure out the card,” he said. “We haven’t been to Montreal this year, last year we went twice. We haven’t been to Toronto twice. It’s those kinds of things (we have to think about), and making sure we’ve got the right venues available. We’re talking to the Rogers Centre, we’re talking to the ACC. We’re talking to the Bell Centre. We want to make sure we do it right.”
Like Toronto, Montreal is a slam-dunk destination for the UFC pretty well at any time. The Bell Centre sold out (23,152) for the Georges St. Pierre-Josh Koscheck welterweight clash on Dec.11. That marked the fourth UFC card in La Belle Province’s largest city.
But Toronto might be the best UFC market in the world. Almost 56,000 tickets were sold for the Rogers Centre event — in minutes — and White, the UFC’s president, can’t wait to get back in that market.
GSP, of course, would be a perfect headliner for either card, though White has tweeted that the welterweight champion will likely fight Nick Diaz at UFC 137 at the Mandalay Bay Event Center in Las Vegas on Oct.29. London, Ont., fighter Mark Hominick, who enthralled the crowd at UFC 129 when he went five rounds with UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo — almost pulling off an upset — said this week that he should be ready to fight again by the end of the year, after suffering a broken hand a couple of weeks ago in training. Hominick would certainly be a good fit for a Toronto card.
In any case, Wright said his organization can’t lose going to Toronto or Montreal, adding that if T.O. doesn’t get the card in December, the UFC will go back there early in 2012 for sure.
Despite the Canucks fever running rampant this week in Vancouver, UFC officials are expecting Rogers Arena to be sold out on Saturday, proving again that the sport has made a connection in Canada better than almost anywhere in the world.
“We don’t have any research,” said Wright, when asked why that is. “But I think that hockey’s part of our DNA and fighting is part of our DNA. And whether you like it or not, fighting’s part of hockey, at least at the professional level. And I think there’s a fit there.”