UFC 129 – The Next Level

In one month, with over 55,000 fans attending, the UFC will take their promotion to the next level. This will be the largest live crowd to view a UFC event ever.

Pride the First

The former Pride organization was the first to have huge numbers for live attendance of an MMA event with over 70,000 fans showing up in August, 2002 and 67,450 fans for the 2003 Pride Final Conflict event.  Broadcast to over 40 countries, Pride was the first successful global MMA organization.

Boxing has had a number of events with huge crowds, the indoor record being 67,450 fans attending for the Muhammad Ali vs. Leonard Spinx bout, and a reported 136,274 spectators filled Estadio Azteca to watch a then unbeaten Julio César Chávez fight Greg Haugen.

MMA Legalized in Ontario, Canada

The province of Ontario was one of the last hold-outs to licensing MMA events in North America, and the UFC had been persistently lobbying for legislation to allow the promotion to hold events in Canada’s most populous province.  Dana White had already been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm for MMA in Canada at UFC events held in Montreal, and Vancouver when these events sold out in record time.  Short months after the UFC established a Toronto office, hiring the former Canadian Football Commissioner Tom Wright, MMA was finally given the green light to hold events in Ontario.

Dana White was confident that an event in Toronto would do very well, however, when he opted for the larger venue, the Rogers Centre Skydome instead of the smaller 20,000 seat Air Canada Centre, he was somewhat nervous about filling enough of the huge venue to justify its choice–the initial target for sales was an optimistic 40,000.  It seemed a bit of gamble until the first day of ticket sales, restricted only to Fight Club members.

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  By the end of the day, UFC Canada’s Tom Wright was releasing additional tickets for sale.  To make a long story short, the UFC sold every possible ticket they could without getting rid of the additional giant screens they had installed to add to the fan experience.  The gate revenue alone will exceed $11,000,000.

Fan Expo to Break another Record

The two day UFC Fan Expo promises to be a star-studded event and considering the quick sell-out of the Rogers Centre. The urban area around Toronto along Lake Ontario is called the Golden Horseshoe and contains 8 million people; it does not seem too much of a gamble to guess that the Fan Expo will break more records.

In 2010, the Las Vegas UFC Fan Expo saw 125,000 fans pass through in two days.  At $60 for a two day pass, and $35 for a one day pass, the Fan Expo alone could yield 8 to 12 million dollars for the UFC. 

 Fighters at Toronto Fan Expo

Fighters attending the Fan Expo and signing autographs include:

 Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Cain Velasquez, Dominick Cruz, Chuck Liddel, Royce Gracie, BJ Penn, Frank Mir, Rashad Evans, Miguel Torres, Anthony Pettis, Carlos Condit, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira,  Josh Koscheck, Ryan Bader, Stephan Bonnar, Shane Carwin, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub, Jon Fitch, Clay Guida, Joe Lauzon, Cole Miller and Sam Stout.

The Fan Expo is also an MMA trade show for which the UFC charges fees for businesses to set up booths.

The UFC 129 Fight Card

Part of the reason for the success of UFC 129 is its fight card.  Two title bouts on one card commands the interest of fans, only slightly diminished by the dominance of each title holder in his respective weight class.  Jake Shields and Mark Hominick offer respectable competition for the champions–and if either or both should win, it would be a surprise, but not a complete shock to knowledgeable fans. 

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Challenging Two Dominant Champions

Jake Shields (26-4-1) is riding a 15 fight win streak and has not been defeated since 2004.  Shields has defeated such MMA luminaries as Yushin Okami, Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, Paul Daley, Carlos Condit, Jason Miller, Robbie Lawlor among others.  While GSP is favored to defeat Shields, it truly would be foolish to discount Jake Shield’s ability to pull off an upset.

Mark Hominick (20-8) is given even less of a chance by fans, perhaps fairly, due to his past record.  But Hominick is on a 5 fight winning streak, and seems to have improved his game with each fight.  Most notably, Hominick has an excellent striking game, training with Shawn Thompkins, and it will be interesting to see how Aldo handles a higher level of striking than most of his previous opponents have offered.  Hominick does have home court advantage, for whatever that is worth.

A Must Win vs. Last Win

The addition of a bout between the two former champions Randy Couture and Lyoto Machida make this card even more interesting.  Machida has fallen far in the rankings after two losses and needs this win to return to title contention.  Couture is fortunate he was given this fight (which he asked for), but probably was asked due to his being a fan favorite and his ability to contribute to selling PPVs, not because he earned it with his recent performances.  Couture has again made noises about this being his last fight before retirement.  Machida was glad to take this fight because the financial gain will be high, and he will be fighting a living legend of MMA.

Other Interesting Fights

In addition, the bout between Mark Bocek and Benson Henderson is an interesting one to fans.  Henderson will be making his UFC debut after losing his WEC LW title to Anthony Pettis.  He is heavily favored to defeat Bocek, however, Bocek may surprise fans.  Bocek is a much decorated BJJ black belt and is very capable of submitting anyone in his weight class.

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An interesting fight not on the main card is the one between Nate Diaz and Rory MacDonald.  In his second UFC fight, MacDonald almost defeated Carlos Condit, and was TKO’d in the final seconds of the fight while he was ahead on points.  Although this will be only his third UFC fight, he should give Nate Diaz a good fight, and has his chances to defeat the veteran Diaz.

The rest of the card also includes many interesting match-ups.

The Significance of UFC 129

Besides being a stacked card, UFC 129 is significant because it takes the UFC from venues sized between 15,000 and 20,000 seat capacity to a stadium which seats more than 55,000 fans.  It is significant that the UFC easily filled these seats, and how much more money they will be making from this event when you include the Fan Expo.

There is a great symbolic significance due to the size of the crowd which will be evident when the event is shown to the world on PPV.  Fans around the world will see palpable evidence of the growth of the UFC and MMA in general.  The size of the event might command the grudging respect of the more traditional sports establishment and media.  Events of this size make it harder for the critics of the sport to dismiss MMA as a ‘lunatic fringe’ freak show.

A huge event like this makes the UFC’s plans for global expansion that much easier because it is a giant global advertisement for the sport of MMA.