TORONTO - Until recently, many fight fans in Toronto were wondering why the UFC had put together such a mediocre card for its third stop in the city it considers “the mecca of mixed martial arts.”
But a bizarre series of events landed two of the biggest names in the sport — Jon 'Bones' Jones and Vitor 'the Phenom' Belfort — on the UFC 152 card and suddenly those same fans were scrambling to get tickets to the Sept. 22 show at the Air Canada Centre.
“It’s very rare that we have two championship fights on one card,” Tom Wright, the UFC’s director of Canadian operations, said of the upcoming event. “The last time was at UFC 129, which was also in Toronto.”
That show, the city’s first ever, saw 55,724 fans pack the Rogers Centre to watch two Canadians co-headline. Mark Hominick nearly snatched the featherweight title away from Jose Aldo and Georges St. Pierre successfully defended his welterweight strap.
This time the main event was initially only Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson, both vying to become the UFC's first flyweight champ.
But an injury to one fighter and refusals by several others to scrap on short notice led to the cancellation of UFC 151, a costly first for the company, and suddenly Jones and Belfort were added as the co-main event for UFC 152.
Wright said ticket sales jumped after the addition of the bigger fighters with bigger names.
“It’s going to be an interesting fight,” Wright said of Jones-Belfort. “It’s phenom versus phenom.”
Belfort was nicknamed the Phenom after winning the UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament in 1997 when he was just 19 and the UFC was in its infancy.
And Jones has been called a phenom since becoming the UFC’s youngest champion last year at only 23. He has since beaten many of the top names in the light heavyweight division and looks unbeatable heading into his fourth title defence.
“I know a lot of people are predicting Bones will win, but I wouldn’t count Belfort out,” Wright said.
Belfort is on the downswing of his career, but he’s won four of his last five fights in his third UFC stint.
Wright said fans should also be excited about the 125-pound battle in the co-main event.
“These guys will not disappoint,” he said of Benavidez and Johnson.
Middleweights Michael Bisping and Brian Stann will also lock horns at UFC 152.
And while Toronto’s previous UFC shows were stacked with Canadians, this card has only three.
Mitch Gagnon, from Sturgeon Falls, will take on fellow bantamweight Walel Wattson. Nova Scotia’s TJ Grant will square off in a lightweight bout with Evan Dunham.
And Toronto’s Sean Pierson will battle Lance Benoist in a welterweight match-up.
“There are still tickets available,” Wright said.