This is going to come as a surprise to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White, but Toronto apparently isn’t dying to fill Air Canada Centre to its roof when the top mixed martial arts (MMA) organization in the world makes its second appearance in Canada’s largest city on Dec. 10 for its UFC 140 event.
Just over six months after selling out a record 55,000-plus tickets for UFC 129 in a mere 12 minutes, the UFC is struggling to fill the 20,000-or-so seat Air Canada Centre, with plenty of tickets still available on Ticketmaster over two weeks after initially going on sale (although it should be noted the cheapest tickets are sold out).
It’s a surprising turns of events for a city that has been described as being madly in love with the rapidly-growing sport.
Toronto is the UFC’s top market as far as pay-per-view sales and viewership are concerned, so it’s a striking development in the city White has called “the mecca of MMA.”
But there are reasons for this, suggest MMA experts.
Some cite the lack of Georges St. Pierre on the card, the French-Canadian UFC Welterweight Champion, who headlined the record-setting UFC 129, as the biggest explanation for this downshift in demand for tickets.
Others say the build-up of the sport being ostracized in Ontario for so long was why the city rushed to buy tickets to April’s grand event.
These explanations, however, don’t delve into the macro-societal issues that are part-and-parcel with the issue, and that, as I discovered by talking to a group of casual UFC fans, have them now divided about the working-class nature of the sport.
Click here to watch Adam Martin report from the Air Canada Centre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjjATNKri1U
The customer is always right
Liam Van Dusen is no hardcore fan, but will watch the UFC if his brother orders it, or if it’s on at a bar. As a student working part-time, though, his money is tight and MMA isn’t at the top of his priorities list.
“$60 for a sporting event is a lot of money,” said the 23-year old University of Toronto student of the price it costs to order a UFC pay-per-view. “It’s usually only about two hours of entertainment. That’s about $30 an hour. I can figure out better ways to spend $60 than that.”
Safe to say Van Dusen isn’t one to shell out the couple-hundred dollars it would cost to see a live UFC event, and the fact there are still tickets available for the December event indicates he’s not alone.
Others, however, have no problem anteing up to see their favourite fighters in the Octagon. For them, it’s an escape from the dulls of everyday life and something to do on an otherwise mundane weekend.
“It’s the new ‘regular joe’ kind of sport,” said Michael Parg, 22, a York University student studying criminology. “You get a bunch of guys who get together who work these nine-to-five jobs, who hate their jobs, who hate their lives.
“They get together on Saturday night, go out with the boys, have a few beers, and watch the UFC fights.”
Click here to hear Adam Martin discuss the working-class nature of MMA: adam_mma_workingclass
The nature of the beast
John Baxter, a 25-year old East York resident who labours at Home Depot, thinks MMA is a sport for the collective and not just one strata of society.
“I think everybody watches it from every walk of life,” said Baxter, who has observed an assortment of different folk gathering to take in the scraps at the bars he visits.
Vinson Zeng thinks he knows the reason behind that.
“I think that regardless of socioeconomic level, anyone can appreciate a brutal professional fight,” said the 23-year old Queens University student who is studying life sciences in the hopes of saving people’s lives as a doctor, but who also enjoys a fight between two well-trained professionals every now and then.
In that sense, the fact that MMA is, essentially, a fistfight between two men locked inside a steel cage, may be the underlying reason behind its appeal.
“From a fan’s point of view, it is a working-class sport because of its combative nature,” said Davey Hancock, the 23-year old Scarborough resident, who astutely observed it’s not usually the elite of society who partake in the actual fights, even though they ironically are the ones that financially back them.
This is where MMA becomes similar to boxing.
During the sweet science’s heyday, it was the preferred pastime for many in the working-class as it was, some believed, a symbolic means of their own struggles, as well as a visual outlet of aggression for them through the stimulus of watching a spectacle of blood and violence.
MMA, a sport Parg called “the evolution of combat sports,” has largely filled these shoes as of late, but as boxing has drifted towards a more elite audience in recent years, perhaps the fact there are still pricey tickets available to UFC 140 indicates MMA is trending in that direction, too, just that it’s maybe got there a little sooner.
While once MMA was just a fight between two men locked in a cage, it’s now a multi-billion dollar, global enterprise, and this duality has the fans split.