The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fifth visit to Toronto was far and away the organization’s most successful.
UFC 231 was held at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, and mixed martial arts fans were filing into the arena as soon as the preliminary fights got underway a little after 6 p.m. The main card didn’t get underway until 10 p.m., proving yet again how much of a cash cow Toronto is for the UFC and its president, Dana White.
“This was a total sellout,” White told reporters following the successful card. “A lot of times, we announce sellouts, and you’ll have 50 or 100 single seats still available. Not one single seat opened for this event. This is the biggest event we’ve ever done (at Scotiabank Arena).”
In total, 19,039 fans took in the event, with the UFC earning $3.28 million, its most successful gate at the facility. That figure is before pay-per-view buys, not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and apparel sold inside the venue.
The only UFC event held in Toronto that was bigger than Saturday night’s UFC 231 was back in April 2011, when Canadian favourite Georges St-Pierre headlined UFC 129 against American fighter Jake Shields. That event was held at the much larger Rogers Centre and still holds the title of second-largest attendance for a UFC event in the company’s history at 55,724.
Not only does the UFC benefit from those figures but so, too, does the city.
During that card in 2011, the UFC projected the event would generate more than $40 million in revenue for the city, mostly through tourism dollars. That massive number was largely due to the fact that MMA had just become a sanctioned sport in Ontario, and UFC 129 was the very first card to be hosted by the city. Saturday night’s card, while not as big, still solidified Toronto as one of the biggest international markets for the UFC.
But the appetite for MMA seems to stretch well outside the borders of the Greater Toronto Area.
Remi, a longtime fight fan from Sudbury, drove in on Friday morning with a group of eight other diehards for the event, his fourth.
“This is so much better than any hockey event out there,” Remi told Global News.
Not only did the group make the nine-hour trek from northern Ontario but they each shelled out hundreds of dollars for food, gas, accommodation and, of course, tickets to the event.
“I probably dropped between $600 and $800 for this event,” the 32-year old said.
Even fighters recognize the rabid fan base Toronto seems to have.
“I felt like a Canadian, eh,” joked UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway, who successfully retained his title against a very game Brian Ortega. All week building up to the fight, the 27-year old repeatedly referred to Toronto as the “tenth island,” paying homage to his native Hawaii.
“It was ridiculous; it was so loud inside (Scotiabank Arena),” said Holloway. “You guys are the best.”
Holloway also didn’t rule out potentially returning to headline a third UFC event here.
“The fans here, you guys remind me of Hawaiians, so warm,” Holloway said. “I’ll come back for sure; I love this place. Maybe we’ll try the summer. A little bit warmer, please?”
White, meanwhile, couldn’t say for sure when the organization might return to Toronto.
“I don’t have any dates off the top of my head,” he told reporters. But given the dollars the company raked in Saturday night, you can bank on it not being very long before UFC returns.