UFC discussing stadium show in Australia

Tom Wright, UFC director of Canadian operations, and fighter Rory MacDonald wait to appear at Senate constitutional affairs committee to discuss mixed martial arts on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 10, 2012. (CP/Adrian Wyld)
March 1, 2013, 6:39 PM

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is discussing the possibility of holding a stadium event in Australia, according to Tom Wright, the UFC’s director of operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“I met with the (Australian) Sports Minister and the Minister of Major Events and we’ve talked about the prospect of bringing a major pay-per-view event to the city (Melbourne) that claims to be the ultimate sports city around the world,” Wright told Showdown Joe Ferraro on UFC Central Radio Thursday night.

“And if we did have our first event there it would be very analogous to our first event in Toronto where we went to the Rogers Centre,” said Wright, who has run things for the UFC in Canada for a few years but was recently given the added role of handling the organization’s operations in fellow Commonwealth nations Australia and New Zealand.

The proposed event would take place at the Etihad Stadium, also known as Docklands Stadium, which is located in Melbourne and home to five teams in the Australian rules football organization Australian Football League. The venue has a potential capacity of over 55,000 and has a retractable roof.

“As I get to know (the Australian) market better, I really believe that the first event that we would take to Melbourne could be as successful as the first event we brought here to Toronto,” Wright added.

However, before a stadium show can be organized some work needs to be done. According to Wright, MMA in Australia is currently in a somewhat similar situation to the situation Ontario found itself in several years ago, before the sport was sanctioned.

The former Canadian Football League commissioner explained that in Victoria and Western Australia professional MMA is sanctioned and regulated but the governing bodies only allow promotions to use boxing rings.

“The UFC would never allow one of our events to be held in a boxing ring because the health and safety of the fighters would be compromised, as well as it’s not really an even playing field — a boxing ring versus an Octagon,” Wright explained. “The challenge of course is we’re dealing with government and government doesn’t always take the time to look at all the facts and do their homework and tend to act subjectively. … We’ve got a higher hill to climb in Western Australia, but actually we’ve got some good momentum in Melbourne.”

Australia is the UFC’s fourth biggest market outside of the United States, Canada and Brazil, from a revenue standpoint. The country has held four events in the past three years — UFC 110 in February 2010, UFC 127 in February 2011, UFC on FX: Alves vs. Kampmann in March 2012 and UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson last December. The first three events all took place in Sydney with the most recent event taking place on the Gold Coast — the MMA regulations in those two regions are different than in Victoria and Western Australia.

Also, Wright told The Daily Telegraph last week that the promotion is also planning an event for this December with Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide being potential locations.

The UFC aims to grow and expand its Australia market, like it has in Canada, and Wright, along with the entire UFC Canada team, will be heading that operation.

“Australia is very similar to Canada in many ways,” Wright added. “We’re both sporting nations, both part of the Commonwealth, we’ve got similar government structures, we’ve got similar regulatory challenges. … It’s the entire team we have here at UFC Canada that’s responsible for trying to build the business there, and they may end up opening an office there, but right now it’s all about trying to continue the education effort … and get things done there.”

Updates on Canadian UFC events and TUF Canada

– Wright said he can “guarantee” there will be at least one more UFC event in Canada in 2013 besides the previously-announced UFC 158 in Montreal on March 16, and UFC 165 in Toronto in September.

– Wright on the development of The Ultimate Fighter Canada: “We’re absolutely going to do a TUF Canada, but it’s looking more like it’s going to be in the first part of 2014.”

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