It has been almost 20 years since the glory days of SkyDome, when Torontonians packed the joint to cheer the Blue Jays on their way to back-to-back World Series victories. Now named Rogers Centre, the place will be rocking once again on April 30 when the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company Ultimate Fighting Championship comes to Toronto for the first time, with a main event featuring Georges St-Pierre of Montreal taking on Jake Shields.
For the fight, the stadium was initially configured for 42,000 fans, but when tickets went on sale on Feb. 10, more than 30,000 were sold in the first hour, and organizers quickly put more tickets on the market. UFC 129 is officially a record sellout at 55,000 tickets, generating a gate of $11 million, which doubles the largest gate and attendance records in UFC history.
Described as the bloody love child of boxing and professional wrestling, MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. But as Steven Brunt observed in The Globe and Mail, the sellout in Toronto isn’t much of a grassroots sort of thing. The secret of UFC, he points out, is that it has “created a travelling audience of zealots who follow its events from place to place.” That makes it more like a Grateful Dead concert than a sporting event, something bloodthirsty fans might not care to admit.