A year ago the UFC made its debut in Calgary, and it was what was universally regarded as the organization’s worst pay-per-view event of 2012. So much so, that UFC president Dana White promised a return to the city to make up for it.
He may want to do the same for the fans in Winnipeg. Or at least return sooner rather than later.
At Saturday night’s UFC 161 at the MTS Centre, fans booed following a Roy Nelson fight. That’s all you really need to know about how the Manitoba capital’s UFC debut went.
At least Calgary got a title fight. Winnipeg didn’t even get a five-rounder.
Now, the UFC isn’t entirely to blame. Just as it was for last summer’s UFC 149, major injuries left the card looking much different than originally planned. Renan Barao was supposed to defend his interim bantamweight title against Eddie Wineland in the main event, but was hurt, forcing the UFC to promote the Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson bout to headliner (and because of the late notice, they did not up the length of their previously-contracted three round bout agreement to what should typically be five rounds for a main event).
But the fact is, the card could have been better, both on paper, and in terms of how the fights delivered.
The main event - between two guys coming off losses – was a bit lacking. It had no clear-cut winner, but not many people out of their seats either.
The co-main event between huge fan favourite Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic, while mildly entertaining and even featuring a dubious distinction for Nelson, who set a UFC record for most significant strikes absorbed in a fight without being knocked out (437) -- left a bit to be desired.
Edmonton's Ryan Jimmo returned to fight in Western Canada for the first time since last year’s UFC 149 when he won by spectacular seven-second knockout. He was a winner again, but in pretty much a polar opposite manner to last year, claiming a forgettable, heavily-booed decision.
“That fight sucked all the life out of this place,” White said. “I almost went home.”
The women’s fight between Port Colborne, Ont.’s Alexis Davis and Rosi Sexton had its moments but in the end it was the least entertaining of the four female bouts to grace the Octagon – the only one not to have a finish and showed that neither is ready to challenge champion Ronda Rousey.
It’s a bit of a shame considering the night had such promise after a pretty good undercard and a stunner in the pay-per-view opener, when Shawn Jordan had the only knockout of the night – and it only took him 59 seconds against Pat Barry.
Despite the lower points, White was still positive about the card.
"Was it a record-breaking night of knockouts? No, but overall it was a solid card," the prez said.
Trouble is, he’s a promoter, and other media members begged to disagree.
But enough negativity, here are some high points:
Last week in Brazil, there were seven matchups pitting a home country fighter against a visitor, and Brazilians won all of them. The seven Canadians on Saturday’s Winnipeg card came incredibly close to matching that feat. Only Sam Stout failed to notch a victory, and he still managed to earn Fight of the Night (his sixth).
Yves Jabouin, Mitch Clarke, Roland Delorme, Sean Pierson, Davis and Jimmo all earned hard-fought decisions, and while a couple of them could have been deemed being of the "hometown" variety, nobody should say they didn’t deserve the nods. They all impressed – yes even Jimmo, at least at times. He may have admittedly said his fight sucked (and as a result wouldn’t even do his patented "robot"), but he did land a couple of big shots against a tough Igor Pokrajac.
Shawn Jordan & James Krause shine
The job of selecting Knockout and Submission of the night Saturday was an easy one as there was only one of each. (Mike Tyson, your services would not be required tonight.)
Jordan had the kind of KO that would probably win anyway on most nights as he crumpled Pat Barry early and wasted little time to finish it.
Meanwhile, Krause took full advantage of the rare opportunity for a UFC debut when Stout’s opponent Isaac Vallie-Flagg had to pull out with an injury. He opened a deep cut on Stout’s forehead with his shin early in the first round and proceeded to display great pace and striking – and keep himself out of Hands of Stone’s range – before finally getting an impressive guillotine submission with 13 seconds to spare (for what was the second latest submission in a three-round fight in UFC history).
A few weeks ago, Krause was a UFC spectator. Now he’s a first-time winner, and $100,000 richer (including his KOTN and FOTN bonuses).
Winnipeg crowd impresses
A total of 14,754 packed the relatively-small MTS Centre for a live gate of $3.15 million, which White said broke the record for the arena.
And it was a raucous and knowledgeable crowd (as most Canadian ones are), and very unlike a Vegas event, when venues are nearly empty to start off as fans only trickle in as the prelims go on. Eager for its first taste of the Octagon, Winnipeggers showed up early and with the type of feverish energy they had for the Jets returning to the NHL.
White was more than impressed.
"It was awesome, from the first fight, there was something like 11,000 for the first prelim and the place was packed with fans going crazy,” White said. "It was a great experience coming to a new market like this when the fans are pumped up."
The results weren’t as thrilling as last weekend’s UFC card in Brazil, which had a record number of submissions (8) and all but two fights had finishes. In fact it was the exact opposite, as only two fights at the Winnipeg event had finishes and there were a record-tying nine decisions. But in the end there were plenty of competitive fights.
In future, we just hope to see more significant ones, and cards built to withstand the unpredictability of injuries. Certainly, our Western Canadian markets deserve it.