Strategy

UFC and Toronto a solid combination

The Ultimate Fighting Championship's love affair with Toronto has just begun.

Second bout of UFC 129 in Toronto. (Photo: Chris Young/CP)

Toronto’s first date with the Ultimate Fighting Championship went off without a hitch, and the two are eagerly looking forward to seeing each other again.

A stacked fight card that included UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and nine other Canadians provided plenty of action, backed by prodigious amounts of energy drinks, beer and impressive production values.

However, the real story of UFC 129 is the bottom line.

More than 55,000 people paid between $50 and $800 to witness North America’s largest-ever mixed martial arts event in person, hosted at the Rogers Centre on April 30. It was the UFC’s first stadium show and signalled a new era in event production and scale. Twenty huge video screens — including two that spanned 100 feet across — provided superb sightlines, while a hanging array of speakers pumped out surprisingly high-quality sound.

Gate proceeds were $11.5 million — a UFC (and Rogers Centre) record — while an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 Canadians paid between $50 and $60 for the pay-per-view package and roughly 2,000 bars and restaurants bought license fees to screen the event. If the night was a test run for a future 100,000-seat endeavour, possibly at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, it would seem all systems are a go.

Salaries for the average mixed martial arts fighter reflect the nascent popularity of the sport (think poverty line), but a few of the fighters who won their bouts on Saturday made out like bandits. More than $516,000 in bonuses was paid out, including “knockout of the night,” “submission of the night,” and “fight of the night”— the latter going to Thamesford, Ontario native Mark Hominick, who picked up $129,000 for his (unsuccessful) shot at the UFC featherweight belt against Brazilian-born Jose Aldo.

With the first Toronto event under his belt, UFC president Dana White was characteristically blunt about a return engagement. “We’d be back here next weekend if we could.” More events — although not on the scale of UFC 129 — are planned this year for Vancouver and Montreal.

In 10 years, the UFC has gone from an underground spectacle that was banned in most U.S. states to a multi-billion dollar juggernaut that has broken into almost every major market in North America and Europe. The privately-held company has a fighting-based reality show — with more in the works — and is planning to expand to Asia and the Middle East.