The Ultimate Fighting Championship worked as hard in the province of Ontario as it has in the state of New York to break down barriers of competition.
When MMA finally got sanctioned in Ontario, UFC president Dana White stopped at nothing to bring Toronto the biggest MMA event North America has ever witnessed.
The UFC had fan-interactive functions from the Wednesday prior to the event until the Sunday after the fights. There were happenings scattered around the city, but the two-day fan expo at the Direct Energy Centre the place to catch most of the fans flocking to catch a glimpse of their favorite fighters. Hours before the doors opened on Friday morning at the expo, there was a lineup of tens of thousands of people awaiting entry to get an autograph and their picture taken with a legend of the sport like Royce Gracie, or a current champ like Jon “Bones” Jones.
Over 100 exhibitors and practically any UFC fighter a fan could want to meet were there. The seasoning of Strikeforce competitors such as Gilbert Melendez and Cung Le, grappling tournaments, UFC Q-and-A sessions and beautiful ring girls had MMA fans buzzing with excitement.
The fan expo was equally as exciting for the exhibitors at the event. From TapouT to Xyience, they were all there to interact with fans and give away company merchandise. Adam Kroetsch and Elroy Myers, who own Combinations Sports in Kitchener, Ontario, co-operated the RevGear booth with fighters such as Brendan Schaub, Ben Rothwell, Jim Miller, Sean Sherk and Krzysztof Soszynski, available for autographs. Kroetsch admits that beside the unbelievable atmosphere, there were also ample opportunities for businesses to network at such an event.
“The atmosphere at the UFC Expo was overwhelming,” said Kroetsch. “The VIP crowd gradually worked their way through the vendors, but once the general admission (crowd) was allowed in, it was just a nonstop flow. Fans had a gigantic venue to explore with so many different vendors and fighters to interact with, which made for a great success. The Expo was not only an amazing experience for all of the fans and consumers, but was also amazing for networking as an exhibitor and wholesaler. I think the event was a success for everyone involved.”
The UFC 129 event saw 55,724 spectators witness an event like no other in the history of the promotion. The enormous high-definition jumbo tron was one of the clearest, sharpest pictures I have ever seen on a television, plus the additional 10 gigantic hi-def screens that were hung strategically from the top of the dome made sure that everyone had a clear view of the fight, no matter where they were sitting. Inside and outside the Rogers Centre, MMA fans were amazed with the spectacle they were about to be a part of. The fighters on the card came through with exciting performances for the most part, and solidified UFC 129 to be a memorable card for its action inside the Octagon.
The entire week of UFC events was a success, not just for the UFC, but also for the city of Toronto, and the province of Ontario.
Premier Dalton McGuinty tried his damnedest to keep MMA out of Ontario, citing that it was not a priority to him and contesting that MMA will not bring in the kind of revenue people thought it would. Former Commissioner of the Canadian Football League (CFL) Tom Wright headed up the Director of Operations position at UFC Canada, and worked diligently with White and other Canadian politicians in addition to the Ontario Athletic Commission to eventually convince McGuinty there were a lot of positives in bringing the UFC to Ontario.
After the week of UFC 129, McGuinty must be happy he listened and made the decision to legalize MMA in Ontario.
Along with the fans that attended the fight, there were thousands more that came solely for the fan expo. Hotels had no vacancies as far as 30 miles away, restaurants were packed solid for the entire week and shopping malls were nearly impossible to get to. The entertainment district was flooded at night, some of it due to fighters having their own parties at the city’s nightclubs.
During the night of the event, the Gardener Expressway, which leads to the Rogers Centre, was backed up for miles upon miles, with traffic at a dead stop. The UFC reported $12.075 million on the gate at UFC 129, but the city of Toronto made a pile of money from tourism as well.
“Having talked to the hotels in the city, I can tell you that they were full for months leading up to the UFC event,” said Vice President of Communications for Toronto Tourism Andrew Weir. ”An event like this spreads across the the city because it’s so powerful.”
“We had an event of our own on here which booked half of our rooms, but the UFC fans took whatever was leftover,” Director of Public Relations for Fairmont Royal York Hotel Melanie Coates admitted. “You could tell the difference in traffic in the city. It was very busy out on the streets and the nightlife was busier than usual.”
“It increased our business by about 50 percent,” said a manager at Pier 4 Bar and Grill. “Saturday after the fights, we had a good, young crowd in here. They behaved and just had fun. I had my banquet room booked for a party that night and the two separate crowds mingled nicely. No problems at all.”
UFC 129 can be chalked up as a win both for Toronto and the UFC. They both made a significant amount of money from the events that took place, Toronto had visitors from all around the world and the UFC made history. The feeling among locals is that White and the rest of Zuffa managed to make UFC 129 absolutely perfect, they did not fail in any aspect, and went above and beyond anyone’s expectations.
After Premier McGuinty realizes the massive success the capitol of Ontario had due to the UFC’s venture into Toronto, I do not expect it to be long before he invites them to come back. “We would be back next week if we could,” White said in the post-fight press conference.
Toronto is a mammoth of a city, made up of skyscrapers and booming nightlife. The metropolis has the capacity to hold such a large-scale event and all of its visitors. It was an unforgettable week for everyone who attended any of the functions that took place.
Now, imagine what the UFC could do in a place size of New York City. Monumental.