Brydon on UFC: Comparing Toronto shows

September 25, 2012, 10:36 PM

UFC 152 has come and gone, completing the trilogy of Toronto shows in just under a year and a half.

There were some distinct similarities between this latest event and each of the previous two in our country’s biggest market. Given the next one isn’t expected until about a year from now, I thought I’d rate the show, but rather than with a straight report card, I thought I’d go ahead and compare it with the other two Toronto shows and see how it fared in a number of categories.

Pre-fight hype

Nothing will ever compare to the first trip to Toronto in April 2011 since that historic UFC 129 show had many things going for it: The company’s biggest pay-per-view draw Georges St-Pierre, who also happens to be a Canadian sports hero, was headlining against a fairly unpopular Jake Shields. It was the first show in the province of Ontario, which the UFC has called one of the biggest markets for the sport of MMA, after it had finally become sanctioned after years of work. And it was the UFC’s first event in a stadium with much higher capacity than its usual arena or casino offerings.

The hype was considerably less for the second show, UFC 140 in December, but it was still significant considering it was only eight months removed from the first one in the city, not to mention it didn’t have a Canadian superstar at the top. In fact, the final three fights all featured Brazilians against Americans, yet fans and media still braved the winter conditions to take part in many of the festivities.

Unfortunately, it was just not the same for the third installment, with plenty of media at all the pre-fight activities, but not the same amount of fans. Even with the new “villain” status of Jon Jones, it lacked a real hook that the previous two shows had, and certainly didn’t feature the same number of Canadian fan favourites.

Attendance & total gate

It might be difficult to give UFC 152 an “F” here considering the bar that had already been set, in particular with the record-smashing UFC 129, but it might be appropriate to give it a “D-.”

The first Toronto event set North American MMA records with an attendance of 55,724 and total gate of just over $12 million. Of course the UFC wasn’t about to try a second stadium show in 2011, knowing full well that the first one was a special event unto itself. Instead, it held December’s UFC 140 at the much comfier Air Canada Centre, where its 18,303 fans in attendance for a live haul of $3.9 million were much more modest yet still respectable.

However, UFC 152 took a sharp drop with just 16,800 (including many tickets given away) and a gate of less than half of the previous trip to ACC at $1.9 million. That’s quite a plummet.

Main event

The UFC 152 headliner was clearly the weakest of the three on paper, after UFC 129 featured St-Pierre vs. Shields and UFC 140 had Jones fighting a legitimate top 205-pounder in Lyoto Machida. The fact that Jones was in the main event for the second straight Toronto show — this time against a short-notice replacement opponent whom most people thought had little business challenging him and didn’t have much chance — may have contributed to the malaise.

However, in terms of the actual excitement of the fight itself, the last one may have been the best. Just like last December, Jones submitted his opponent to retain his title, but this time he did it after overcoming the adversity of nearly being submitted himself — check that, nearly having his arm broken in a moment of near-shock that fans in attendance were ready to explode. Jones survived and eventually executed an elegant Americana after three-plus rounds of effort-filled attrition, for which the crowd highly appreciated.

His choking out of Machida at UFC 140 was a real statement, but the one-and-a-half rounds of action were somewhat anti-climactic, and while everyone loved the beatdown GSP gave Shields at UFC 129, it was another plodding five-rounder that lacked that real unforgettable moment.

Co-main event

Inasmuch as UFC 152 was more similar to UFC 140 in that it was headlined by Jones against a Brazilian at the Air Canada Centre, the co-main event had more in common with UFC 129 as both featured the first championship fights for one of the new smaller weight classes. But that’s where the similarities end.

The Rogers Centre co-headliner was an epic bout between reigning WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, just promoted to UFC title-holder, against Ontario’s Mark Hominick, fighting in his own backyard for the first time. It was a memorable contest, with Aldo delivering devastating blows that produced a baseball-sized hematoma on Hominick’s head that almost stopped the bout, only to see the crowd favourite fight through it and almost pull out a stoppage in the fifth round amidst raucous cheers.

Contrast that to this past Saturday, when two relative unknowns Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez fought for the first flyweight title, and despite all their skill, they could not muster enough intensity or excitement for the crowd, who booed intently midway through the bout. The problem wasn’t that they couldn’t entertain; the problem was because of their size, the perception was that there was never any danger of either fighter being able to stop the other with one blow, thus it was easy for fans to lose focus.

Still, it was a better fight on paper than UFC 140′s heavyweight bout between Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, simply because it was historic and determined a champion. But nobody can forget how the latter bout ended, with Mir rallying from a knockdown to eventually break Big Nog’s arm in what UFC president Dana White called “Submission of the Century.”

Overall card

UFC 129 was a stacked card in terms of big names, with the two champions plus former UFC or WEC title-holders Machida and Benson Henderson, and Hall of Famer Randy Couture fighting for the last time.

Similarly, UFC 140 was strong in that regard with Jones-Machida, both Nogueira brothers, former champion Mir, and Tito Ortiz fighting for the second-to-last time.

UFC 152 didn’t quite have the same drawing power, with Bisping the only real notable name outside of the main event (unless you also count the unretired Hamill). However, UFC 152 might have been the best card of the three from top to bottom in terms of quality matchups and ones that were significant in terms of rankings.

Like UFC 129, there were the two title fights, but Bisping vs. Brian Stann was a potential No. 1 contender bout, Swanson-Oliveira was important featherweight contest, Grant-Dunham had big lightweight implications, among others. And apart from Hamill vs. Roger Hollett, the fights lived up to expectations, to the point where White said, “A lot of fighters are getting paid tonight.”

While there has been in a decline in Canadian content, from 10 Canucks at UFC 129 down to seven at UFC 140 and then just four on last Saturday’s card, the overall quality has not dropped. Too bad not as many people showed up to see it live.

Signature moments

UFC 129 had the Hominick-Aldo fight and Hominick’s walkout song “Coming Home,” as well as the crane-kick knockout of The Natural by The Dragon.

UFC 140 had the seven-second knockout of Hominick (sorry, Mark) by the Korean Zombie, as well as the “walkoff choke” of Machida by Jones.

What about UFC 152? Likely just Jones’ walkout song “Could You Be Loved” followed by Belfort’s first-round armbar that Jones impossibly escaped from — after first slamming an upside-down Belfort on his head.

Will the most recent event in Toronto be as remembered as the previous two? Probably not, even if it deserves to be.

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