Just eight months after 55,000 fight fans filled the Rogers Centre for the mixed martial arts company’s first ever Ontario show, Toronto will host UFC 140 on Saturday night. The fanfare for the event has paled in comparison to last April’s spectacle when the city had been buzzing for months about UFC 129, which was headlined by Canada’s own Georges St. Pierre. But this time around, it is being held at the much smaller Air Canada Centre…Despite the great line-up, there’s been little hoopla over the city’s second ever UFC event, which still has tickets available.
What the hell happened, Toronto? How did you go from a record-destroying immediate sellout in April to a “Good seats still available!” situation in December? On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense. So let’s throw some excuses around…
— Canada’s interest in MMA is about 90% dependent on Georges St. Pierre. Make no mistake, Canadians are rabid MMA fans when GSP is on the card. When he’s not, only the hardcore fans show up. In that sense, Canada is no different than any other country in the world. When an athlete from your part of the globe is dominating a high-profile international sporting competition, you pay attention. Think about how apeshit Filipinos go for Manny Pacquiao. Would they be known as a nation of boxing fans without him? And do you really think I would have watched one minute of women’s soccer this year if not for Hope Solo?
— UFC 129 had novelty factor. UFC 140 does not. The April show marked the UFC’s first visit to Toronto after the sport was Ontario legalized the sport in 2010, and the crowd was packed with locals who just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, they saw it, and now they don’t have to see it again.
— The card’s just weaker this time. If you’re Canadian, you could certainly make this argument. UFC 129 didn’t just feature GSP vs. Jake Shields, but also another Canadian (Mark Hominick) challenging for the UFC featherweight title, plus Canadian fighters battling American fighters in the first eight fights on the card, and Randy Couture‘s farewell appearance. By comparison, UFC 140 doesn’t have a single Canadian on the poster. The biggest native stars on Saturday night will be Hominick and Claude Patrick, who will be leading off the main card in bouts against Chan Sung Jung and Brian Ebersole, respectively. Good matchups? Sure. Good enough to convince 16,000+ people to pay for seats? Apparently not.
— The UFC can’t promote every card like it’s a blockbuster. In a way, UFC 129 was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and it’s unfair to compare “Jones vs. Machida” to “St-Pierre vs. Shields.” But this conspicuous lack of local excitement might be part of a larger trend. As the promotion loads its schedule to ever-busier levels, breaks into new markets (or back into old markets), and juggles live broadcasts on pay-per-view, FOX, FX, and FUEL, they will no longer be able to spend a lot of time promoting each individual show. UFC 140 might be a victim of the UFC’s success, or at least its current state of frantic forward motion. Plus, Dana and the gang are still hung over from their holiday party with Snoop Dogg. Did you really expect anything to get done this week?