TORONTO - Though the venue may be smaller this time around, the card is still stacked.
The UFC’s return to Toronto on Saturday features one title fight, four former UFC champions and some of Canada’s top fighters and prospects.
But ticket sales for UFC 140 have been sluggish compared to April’s record-setting attendance of 55,724 at the Rogers Centre. For starters, it’s at the Air Canada Centre, which isn’t even half the size of the iconic stadium.
Though there are still tickets available, the UFC is expecting more than 18,000 to be sold by fight night.
Does this mean the world’s largest MMA organization needs Georges St. Pierre headlining in order to successfully promote a card in Canada? Not really.
It will still be a pretty packed house at the ACC. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have GSP on the card.
Regardless of how fans choose to watch the event, there are a slew of intriguing fights, highlighted by the three main scraps.
JONES VS. MACHIDA
If UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Lyoto Machida have one thing in common, it’s that they are the toughest fighters to duplicate in a training camp.
The main event is poised to be a very tactical and cerebral bout, where the smallest mistakes could have the biggest impact.
But Jones isn’t concerned about what the former champion brings to the table. He’s done his homework and in his mind, the fight is already won.
“I try not to worry,” Jones said on a recent conference call. “Lyoto’s just a new challenge.
“I know myself and what are my strengths and weaknesses. I have a pretty good idea from all the footage of Lyoto — strengths and weaknesses. There is no fear.”
Jones is certainly never short on confidence, but can you blame him? Not only is he one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the world, he has the longest reach in the UFC and knows how to use every inch of it.
Machida is fast and highly elusive, but Jones has more than a foot of reach advantage. Combine this with the champion’s long legs and unorthodox striking and that’s a lot of ground to cover just to punch someone in the mouth.
Machida is unpredictable, rarely telegraphs his attacks and has a penchant for being out of harm’s way before opponents can counter. Jones’ reach gives him some space to work with, but is it enough?
Machida said he feels confident in his game plan.
“I brought in a few guys to my camp in Belem (Brazil),” Machida said through his translator, Derek Lee. “I brought in Glover Teixeira, who is a (light-heavyweight) from Brazil; Anderson (Braddock) Silva, who is a guy with a lot of K1 experience and King Mo (Muhammed Lawal) also came down.
“We’ve created a whole strategy and having those guys around has helped me out a lot.”
BIG NOG VS. MIR
Normally when you become the first fighter to finish an MMA legend, people give you at least a little credit. But for Frank Mir, stopping Antonio Rodrigo (Minotauro) Nogueira with punches to capture the interim heavyweight title at UFC 92 three years ago has yielded almost the exact opposite reaction.
Following the bout, it was revealed Rodrigo had suffered from both an injured knee and a staph infection, resulting in a five-day hospital stay prior to the fight. This gave Mir’s detractors all the ammunition they needed to label him as a guy who got lucky.
Mir said he hates it when fighters blame losses on injuries.
“You can explain your performance, I’ve always been keen on that,” Mir said. “If you have an injured hand and someone asks why you didn’t box more, you can say that you had an injured hand. But any time a fighter states: ‘I lost because of an injury,’ that shows disrespect towards your opponent.
“No, the guy in front of you beat you.”
As for Rodrigo, this is an opportunity to avenge one of his most devastating losses. The first time he faced Mir, the two served as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Without all the responsibilities associated with the show, Rodrigo said he wasn’t able to dedicate himself solely to training.
“I feel more athletic, I feel more explosive and I feel more confident,” he said. “Without the distractions, I’m more focused on my training camp.
“I know Frank has improved since the last time I fought him.”
Though Mir said he doesn’t feel Rodrigo has changed much since their first encounter, he admitted his opponent’s confidence will be high after knocking out Brendan Schaub in August.
“After so many fights, I don’t think much is going to change in terms of a style direction,” Mir said. “His boxing and jiu jitsu are going to be his strong suits.
“After such a devastating (knockout) win, I think his confidence has to be higher and that’s a very dangerous thing for an opponent to have.”
L’IL NOG VS. ORTIZ
It has been a roller-coaster year for Tito Ortiz.
The former light-heavyweight champion’s career was on the ropes as he prepared to meet Ryan Bader in July. Many had already written him off, but in one of the more shocking moments of 2011, Ortiz submitted Bader with a guillotine choke in the first round.
For the first time in almost five years, he had momentum in his corner.
But a month later, Ortiz was derailed after suffering a brutal TKO loss to Rashad Evans.
At UFC 140, he meets Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The two were originally set to fight in March, but Ortiz had to drop out due to a concussion. Rogerio went on to lose a decision to Phil Davis.
Needless to say both men are in need of a victory.
A 2007 Pan Am Games bronze-medal winner in boxing, Rogerio should have the edge in striking department. But Ortiz’s wrestling experience could make it difficult for the former PRIDE star to let his hands go.
Much like his brother, Rogerio is known for high-level jiu jitsu. But Ortiz has one of the most underrated ground games in MMA — in 2000 he won bronze at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships.
“He’s a tough opponent,” Ortiz said. “So I need to have my wrestling on par, but my boxing even better. It’s been a big challenge for me physically and emotionally to get in the gym five, six days a week. I’ve been in this game for almost 15 years now. My body has taken some damage and I understand that.
“I’ve just got to make sure I put in the right work for my cardio, my boxing, my kickboxing, my jiu jitsu defence, wrestling — this is mixed martial arts. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything the right way and I think I have for this fight. I’m ready.”