Take a bow Saskatoon, and take a bow Saskatchewan. UFC Fight Night left a little to be desired on both ends, but what a spectacular night it was at Sasktel Centre as the UFC made it much-awaited first appearance on provincial soil.
A crowd of 72-hundred was on hand to watch the event which was beamed across North America on TSN in Canada and Fox Sports 1 in the US. While 72-hundred in the 15-thousand seat Sasktel Centre is not great, you would not have known being in the building as the place was jammed with people who I think left having spent a solid night watching the many fights that were on the card despite the fact the main event hadn't even got going before it was called due to injury. It was a sour ending to the night when Charles Oliviera had to pull the pin early in the 1st round after suffering what was said to have originally been a shoulder injury, but was later confirmed to be an esophagus tear. While the ending was not great, it did not diminish the card at all.
The gate for the event was just under a million dollars Canadian which is what was expected and it had Tom Wright happy, but the UFC Canada boss couldn't have been happy at seeing an event which wasn't sold out in its first trip into Saskatchewan especially when Saskatchewan is one of the per-capita leaders in UFC PPV. It brought up a great discussion as to who is to blame for that. Are Saskatchewan MMA champs content to plunk down 70 bucks to watch a pay-per-view, but not plunk down the money when the event is in their backyard or did the UFC do a poor job in giving Saskatchewan MMA fans who know the sport a card which was not filled with name performers. I think considering there weren't a lot of names on this card, Saskatchewan showed organizers what they would do if some names were to come here. Don't expect Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey or Jon Jones to ever fight in Regina or Saskatoon, but organizers probably would have gotten more people with fighters that a lot have people have heard about.
Saskatchewan's two most famous Mitch's were in the house (OK, one for sure) as Saskatoon's Mitch Clarke was on hand to greet fans before the performancce and throughout the weekend. The place would gone off its hinges had he stepped into the octagon and the plan was for that to happen, but he was sidelined due to injury. It killed him knowing he couldn't do his thing in his hometown.
While the UFC play-by-play tandem of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were not behind the mike on this night calling the action to the world, Bruce Buffer was there. Watching this guy in person is amazing. He is extremely popular with the fans and is more than willing to take pictures and meet as many as possible as are fighters who are there to watch and his act which is sometimes not seen on TV is a treat. He is great to watch!
As mentioned, those connected with the sport are very accomodating. Here's your truly with Tyron Woodley who is getting ready to face Jonny Hendricks in a welterweight bout in what is the co-main event of UFC 193 in Houston in October. The guy below Woodley is no stranger to CFL fans as he is UFC Canada boss. I talked to Tom for a few minutes and he was so happy to be showcasing his product in the heartland of the CFL. By the way, he is just as shocked as anyone over what is happening in Riderville.
The fans were into it for many of the fights and no doubt, it was the loudest when Canadian Patrick Cote took on Josh Burkman.
Canadians on the card ( and there were many) were obviously the fan favourites, but none more than "The Predator" who took out Burkman.
As I left SaskTel Centre, two thoughts went through
1) How long will it take to get back into Saskatoon because of the traffic. I don't think that situation will ever improve.
2) All that were there should have been happy with six hours of the UFC. The crowd was kept alive right from before the opening bell went with loud music and great videos that kept you invested. There wasn't a lot of dead time. It is something some hockey teams should take note of including every Saskatchewan based team in the WHL. Make it an event from the time you open the doors and don't give fans an excuse to be bored. Six hours is a long time to keep people interested in the product and by hook or by crook, the UFC does that.
As I was also leaving, I heard one guy ask his buddy when UFC might return. That is a very good question. Tom Wright has said UFC is interested in doing something in the new Mosaic Stadium, but the UFC also needs to go back to Winnipeg and Calgary as PPV's there did not go well thanks to cards being re-structured due to injury. UFC boss Dana White has promised a return to both cities and he will follow through on that promise. Once those events have been held, Saskatoon or Regina will be looked at again, but I don't see it happening until at least late 2017 or 2018.
As mentioned though, it was well worth the drive and the night in Saskatoon because what was seen by myself and others was a great night of MMA.