Fight enthusiasts across Ontario were greeted with some good news Wednesday when it was announced the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its Toronto debut in mid-2011.
Tom Wright, the UFC’s head of Canadian operations, said the details should be finalized by the end of the year, including a decision on the venue.
The two choices are the Air Canada Centre — which has a max capacity of slightly less than 20,000 — or the Rogers Centre, which could hold upwards of 68,000.
President Dana White has stated multiple times that when the UFC launches in Toronto it will be “the biggest North American MMA event ever,” leading many to speculate that the high-capacity Rogers Centre would be the venue of choice.
When UFC 97 was held in 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, it set the all-time North American attendance record with 21, 415, a significant drop from the crowd that could fill the Rogers Centre.
While it would come as no surprise if White opts for the big stage, the boisterous promoter isn’t quite sold on the idea.
“I don’t know if I’d do that, I want to keep the integrity of the live show,” White said in an interview with AOL FanHouse on Thursday. “I don’t ever want a guy to pay a ticket for an event and he’s sitting in his seat and the octagon looks like a matchbook with two ants fighting in it.”
Besides the setting, the most compelling storyline leading up to the card will be which combatants White chooses to headline the event.
After bluntly stating earlier in the week that Montreal native Georges St-Pierre is the most popular athlete to ever come out of Canada, including Wayne Gretzky, it would be fitting to see the national icon as the centrepiece in Toronto.
With an upcoming bout slated for Dec. 11, it is possible that GSP could be ready to return to the Octagon in time for Toronto’s mid-year date if he remains healthy.
His quickest turnaround came in 2005 when he had only 91 days between fights against Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk.
If St-Pierre is unable to rebound in time for Toronto, White will presumably bring out some of the biggest stars for an event he has hyped since the sport was legalized in the province this past August.
One big-name fighter who could fit the bill is former WWE superstar and current heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar, who fights next week against Cain Velasquez.
It also expected that White will put at least one Canadian fighter on the main card as has been the case in all five events held in the Great White North.
Regardless of the card or venue, UFC in Toronto will be a groundbreaking venture and could be the start of big things for MMA in Ontario.