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Cage matches ultimate draw
Calgary mixed martial arts events getting bigger crowds than name wrestling shows
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun


Saying ultimate fighting is getting popular is like saying the Liberal government is having a bad week -- it just doesn't quite capture the scale of the story.

Ultimate fighting, cage fighting, mixed-martial arts, MMA; Whatever you want to call it, the sport is becoming one of the hottest properties on cable and that's more than just a blurb that sounds good on a press release.

Millions of North American viewers tune into Spike TV each week for the Ultimate Fighter reality show and UFC fights, with the programs often beating all competition in the sacred 18-34 viewer demographic.

Names like Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, known only to hardcore mat fans a few years ago, are en route to becoming household names.

Ortiz, one of the most controversial figures in UFC history, has just signed on to take part in the third season of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, working alongside his arch-rival Ken Shamrock and UFC boss Dana White. That's like putting Terrell Owens back in the Eagles locker-room but with reality TV crews filming the carnage 24/7.

Ortiz and White hate each other, Shamrock and Ortiz had a bitter and unresolved feud and it all basically adds up to huge ratings, which will likely be off the charts.

Outside the UFC, the biggest MMA group in North America is King of the Cage' which takes its shows on the road, playing to soldout houses. Tonight, the group returns to Calgary for its Conquest event.

"MMA is going through the roof and the number one place in Canada right now is Calgary," said Keith Crawford, the promoter of tonight's event. "People need to come and see what this sport has to offer. TSN believes it is going to overtake wrestling as the number one watched combative sport in the world within eight months."

Surpassing wrestling's popularity may sound like a lofty goal but there's enough evidence to suggest it's more than just a pipe dream.

In Calgary -- a wrestling town if ever there were one -- the last King of the Cage show drew 4,500 fans to the Corral with an average ticket price of $55.

The last time WWE ran a house show at the same venue -- with infinitely more name value, star power and promotional money behind them -- they barely filled 1,100 seats, even with tickets averaging only $30. Tonight's KotC card will feature 16 fights in a range of weight classes. It's being marketed as "the show that was banned in Saskatchewan" as Saskatoon city officials declared it illegal.