In the land of UFC 129 – I

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Image of Toronto, near venue for next UFC / Photos: Marcelo Dunlop

Toronto, the setting for UFC 129, recently placed an honest 26th in the ranking for most-violent cities… in Canada. Put otherwise, the rate of violent crime here makes the people of Zurich look like a band of barbarians. Even so Canadians have been a bundle of nerves these days.

On Thursday some folks went on a stabbing spree at a nearby bar. The news is constantly coming up with new details regarding a Chinese student who died while talking on a webcam (the crime was filmed, and the accused is a well-groomed, quiet fellow of good breeding who the neighbors say they could never imagine doing such a thing). And at the airport the good-natured customs official – who says he teaches judo – suddenly lost his cool and threatened to handcuff a young man who fiddled with his passport while the customs man was looking at it. Master Jigaro Kano would not approve of your reaction, mister. Blame it on the cold, which requested late checkout and invaded the spring. It will pass.

Every day the front pages of Toronto’s newspapers feature guys locked up in the clinch pounding away at each other in the arena. Nothing to do with the UFC – ice hockey playoffs are catching fire. MMA, so far, only shows up in alternative media, but in major doses: on the radio, on hundreds of posts around downtown, and on the T-shirts of passersby – men and women alike.

Yesterday was baseball day at Rogers Centre. Will the famed street drummer show up for the UFC?

So as not to say the newspapers are totally mum, “The Globe and Mail” daily kindly put together a bulletin on Mark Hominick, reporting how the featherweight challenger had been sponsored by local football team Hamilton Tiger-Cats – the crosstown rival of the Toronto Argonauts. If he gets booed while making his entrance, you’ll know why.

After some rummaging I finally come across the first photo of Georges Saint-Pierre on a cover. Last month’s GRACIEMAG? Another major sports magazine? Not quite, it was a freebie for The Beer Store’s afficionados – that is, true MMA scholars.

Dana White rears his head in the periodical. Fifty-five thousand tickets for next Saturday’s UFC were sold – 42 thousand bought up the hour they went on sale –, bringing the gate to somewhere to the tune of 11 million dollars. The UFC president – who has research showing Toronto to be the most lucrative market on the planet – isn’t piddling around.

“I’m here with 55 thousand tickets sold and I can’t stop thinking: ‘how many people are still looking for tickets?’” White is quoted as saying in the article. “Canada’s awesome, and you know I don’t just say this stuff about anyone. If I could, I’d hold an event here every week.” The hard part would be drumming up a show with a comparable program. In the main event Saint-Pierre takes on a rival fitting the bill for the occasion, in Jake Shields. José Aldo the steamroller takes on a tough-as-nails hometown boy. And Randy Couture, with thoughts of retirement, will step up against the stalwart Lyoto Machida. There just can’t be enough tickets.

Photo: Marcos Dunlop

The article signed by Mark Keast brings up some more curious numbers, like the three (!) journalists who covered the UFC press conference five years ago. Huddled in a bar, GSP and Hominick shot the breeze with around fifty fans. Nowadays, a single UFC event draws no less than two hundred journalists – and there are still the droves of fans who occupy White’s mind.

There’s an event of this scale on the horizon and journalists in these parts still insist on scribing irrelevant pieces, covering things like national elections (on the 2nd) and the English royal wedding that, according to the queen’s subjects on this side of the pond, will set England back six billion dollars thanks to the national holiday imposed.

It must be a bad mood brought on by the cold. It will pass.

UFC 129
Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada
Saturday, April 30, 2011

Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields
José Aldo vs. Mark Hominick
Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz
Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture
Mark Bocek vs. Ben Henderson

Preliminary card on Spike TV

Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald
Sean Pierson vs. Brian Foster

Preliminary card (informal Canada vs. USA)

Yves Jabouin vs. Pablo Garza
Claude Patrick vs. Daniel Roberts
Ivan Menjivar vs. Charlie Valencia
Jason MacDonald vs. Ryan Jensen
John Makdessi vs. Kyle Watson

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