View Full Version : UFC delivers punch at the box office in first foray into Canada

2/05/2008 12:11am,
UFC delivers punch at the box office in first foray into Canada

The UFC is showing it can deliver a punch at the box office, with more than 13,000 tickets sold in just 24 hours for its Canadian debut in Montreal on April 19.

And that's before tickets even went on sale to the general public for the mixed martial arts show featuring fighters known as the Predator, the Terror, Chainsaw, the Road Warrior, the Serial Killer and the Count at the Bell Centre.

The nicknames may evoke professional wrestling but MMA is bone-jarringly real. And these days, cage fighting is all the rage.

Tickets for the Canadian event were snapped up on the first day of pre-sales open only to members of UFC Fight Club, a fan club for the organization. Fight Club members pay US$74.95 a year for first crack at tickets and other UFC perks. Sales to the general public open Friday.

UFC president Dana White - accompanied by the two fighters who will be showcased at the April card, welterweight champion Matt Serra and challenger Georges St. Pierre of Montreal - trumpeted the box office stampede Monday at a news conference at the Bell Centre.

"It's a big day for us," White said. "For a long time we've been waiting to come up here into Canada.

"I don't think people in Canada realize how big MMA is in this country - not only the talent coming out of this country, but the fans. Everywhere we go, I'm always blown away by the amount of Canadian fans who are there at the fights."

Tickets range from $50 to $550. The UFC's current attendance record of 19,049 was set at UFC 68 on March 3, 2007, at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio - a show that produced the biggest crowd ever for a mixed martial arts event in North America.

The Bell Centre holds 21,273 for Montreal Canadiens hockey games, but seating will be reconfigured for the UFC production, so organizers did not have an exact seating capacity for the event.

Mixed martial arts is a combat sport that combines boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts disciplines. And the UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship - is the reigning heavyweight of the sport.

The UFC held its first show - UFC 1-back in November 1993. The only rules were no biting or eye-gouging - and the only way a bout could end was if a fighter tapped out (to signal he had had enough) or his corner threw in the towel.

The no-holds-barred sport was scorned by many. But it appealed to others, drawn in at the sight of lanky Brazilian Royce Gracie using his jiu-jitsu to twist much bigger men into submission.

Today, the sport is sanctioned in 32 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. There are rules, weight classes and drug testing, just as there is in boxing. And the Montreal show will be UFC 83.

Montreal is already a hotbed of professional boxing, but Quebec has also been a leader in producing mixed martial arts fighters like St. Pierre. It was the first province to sanction MMA bouts in 1998.

MMA shows are held regularly in Quebec and Alberta, with events having also taken place in B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia among other locales. Ontario has not sanctioned the sport, which is regulated by provincial or municipal commissions where it is permitted.

The sport is big business these days.

UFC 81 drew a gate of US$2.4 million in Las Vegas on Saturday and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which regulates both boxing and MMA, earned four per cent of that. Brock Lesnar, the former WWE star who has switched sports, lost in his UFC debut but made US$250,000 anyway.

White and the Fertitta brothers - Lorenzo and Frank - bought the ailing UFC back in 2001 for US$2 million. They have managed to drag the sport out of the gutter, using a successful reality TV show "The Ultimate Fighter," some business smarts and a school of talented fighters to grab a growing audience.

Last year, the UFC reportedly exceeded US$200 million in pay-per-view revenue, outdistancing World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

Marquee MMA fighters like Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell, Randy (The Natural) Couture and Tito (The Huntington Beach Bad Boy) Ortiz have acquired star status outside their sport. Couture has embarked on an acting career while Liddell has appeared on "Entourage" and Ortiz, whose main squeeze is former porn princess Jenna Jamieson, is featured on "Celebrity Apprentice."

If the Iceman needs something from the store, he can jump into his Hummer or Ferrari. And he has some spending money once he gets there, having earned a purse of US$500,000 for battering Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva en route to a unanimous decision at UFC 79 in December.

Some still shun the sport which, as White noted Monday, is not figure skating. Blood flows and, occasionally, bones break.

Mario Latraverse, who heads the Quebec board responsible for combat sports, said that while there was a time the sport was dangerously violent and uncontrolled, he now has no trouble sanctioning bouts.

"Since (1998), the rules have changed drastically, due to the UFC organization that worked with the association of boxing commissioners to make it a real sport, a sport where the fighters are protected and secure," he said.

"This is going to be a huge event for Quebec and no doubt a huge success."

So far, UFC cards have been held mostly in the United States, although in the last two years, there have been well-attended events in England and Northern Ireland.

White said Canada was the next logical stop.

"We wanted to come here and it worked out great that Georges St. Pierre could be on the card, especially as it was a dream of his to fight in his hometown," said White, adding that "we will continue to bring events to Canada."

Regular shows in Montreal put on by a smaller organization called TKO draw very few mainstream media, but the press seats are packed with young reporters from websites and alternative weekly newspapers.

"Guys say 'You're so huge' but we're so far from being mainstream," said White. "We haven't even scratched the surface of how big this thing's going to be.

"There's so much more work to do. Coming up to Canada and doing a big successful event like this, it will make the other provinces say 'We should look into that."'

TKO boss Stephane Patry, who holds MMA events at the Bell Centre, is not alarmed at the big boys from the States moving into his territory.

"I have a few fighters on the card," said Patry, whose events draw an average of about 9,000 and who has another card scheduled. "The main thing is to build the sport here.

"Georges St. Pierre started out with us. Everyone from Canada came through TKO and we're proud of that."

St. Pierre, a 26-year-old who is one of the world's top welterweight MAA fighters, will be featured in the April main event in a rematch with American Matt Serra, who took the title from the Montreal native with a first-round TKO last April.

St. Pierre won the interim crown last December at UFC 79 in Las Vegas with a victory over Matt Hughes when Serra was sidelined with a back injury.

"This interim belt doesn't mean anything to me," St. Pierre said Monday. "The real champion is Matt Serra.

"To be champion, I'll have to beat the champion. I don't feel like a champion now."

Also on the card, former middleweight champion Rick (Ace) Franklin meets Travis (The Serial Killer) Lutter.

Other fights have Briton Michael Bisping against Charles McCarthy; Kalib Starnes of Surrey, B.C., against American Nate Quarry; Mac Danzig versus Mark Bocek of Woodbridge, Ont.; Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald of Red Deer, Alta., against Joe Doerksen of Winnipeg; Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout of London, Ont., versus American Rich (No Love) Clementi; and Ed Herman against Demian Maia.

As well, Jonathan (The Road Warrior) Goulet of Victoriaville, Que., fights Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Patrick (The Predator) Cote of Quebec City will face an opponent yet to be determined.

"I'm pretty confident it will be a huge success," said St. Pierre. "And to fight for a title at home, I'm the happiest man on earth."

The athletes are well-rounded and most have a backstory that goes far deeper than their nicknames. The Serial Killer, aka Lutter, runs his own Brazilian jiu-jitsu school and a handful credits short of finishing his criminal justice degree. The Predator, aka Cote, served in Bosnia in the Canadian military. Franklin is a former high school teacher, with a BA and master's degree in mathematics. MacDonald is a former prison guard who now runs his own gym.

UFC 82 is scheduled for March 1 in Columbus.


I'm freaking out! I still don't have tickets!

Roidie McDouchebag
2/05/2008 3:05am,
I tried to buy tickets today on ticketmaster. They were sold out. OF EVERYTHING. No seats in the nosebleeds. No seats at all. It pissed me off, I tried to get floor seats, it said no. Then I tried "best available" and 3 popped up as available...FOR 150 SECONDS, just enough time to call my instructor, tell him what seats they DID still have, have it drop me from my slot, and I got nothing.