The Octagon entered a new market this past weekend. No, it wasn’t some exotic location like Brazil or Abu Dhabi. The UFC touched down in Orlando, Fla., for the first time. It was the UFC’s first trip to Florida in nearly two years and by far the promotion’s most successful trip to the state. Sure, the ratings were not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but the live gate and how the city received the promotion was just about as good as it gets.

UFC President Dana White had been bullish about the Florida market in the past, and rightfully so. The promotion had trouble selling tickets for its last Fight Night card in the south Florida town of Sunrise. This time, the UFC ventured north to central Florida and found unbelievable success. The attendance was a complete sellout of 17,000, and the event broke the record for the highest live gate in the history of the Fox shows with $1.65 million in ticket sales. White was admittedly shocked by that. He revealed that he had even bet money with his fellow executives that the event would not sell well and that he even disagreed with the decision to make the trip to Orlando. Boy, was he wrong.

What White failed to realize was how different the Central Florida market is from South Florida. South Florida is traditionally known as a fair-weather sports fan town. Even with the recent domination of the Miami Heat, fans still routinely show up late for games. Fans in Orlando still routinely pack the Amway Center for the putrid Orlando Magic.

Fan support is also a big reason why Orlando City Soccer of the United Soccer League is getting a brand new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando and being promoted to Major League Soccer. Orlando is a booming sports town that is hungry for more and more events. Mayor Buddy Dyer successfully convinced the WWE to bring its flagship event to a run-down Florida Citrus Bowl back in 2008, and now that stadium is undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation project and will welcome a third college football bowl game to the stadium starting in 2015. The city even has hopes of landing another Wrestlemania and a future college football championship game. The UFC should continue to be a part of the growth of sports in the city.

The size of the crowd doesn’t always make it great. A 50,000-seat stadium will come across worse than a 10,000-seat arena if the fans are sitting on their hands. This certainly was not the case in Orlando. I was at the state-of-the-art Amway Center as a fan on Saturday night. I arrived before the first UFC Fight Pass preliminary bout started at 3:30 p.m. ET. The building was already about half full. This is a stark contrast from many of the events in Las Vegas where you can see an abundance of empty seats all the way until the main card begins. By the time the Fox Sports 1 portion of the card started, the building was packed. The crowd was also loud throughout the evening, but they were also knowledgeable. The roof was almost blown off the place by the returning Thiago Alves and his war with Seth Baczynski.

Orlando is also home to a large Brazilian population. This, combined with the fact that so many people from Brazil venture to Orlando to visit the abundance of theme parks in the area, makes for a passionate crowd. The Brazilian contingent was eating up every minute of the career-best performance of their countryman, Fabricio Werdum.

Of course, there’s also the one thing that a lot of people consider the downside of coming to the state: the Florida Boxing Commission. Many media members were just waiting for an absolute disaster from the judges and referees. There certainly were some questionable moments—most evident in Jordan Mein only getting a split decision and Ray Borg losing a split decision—but it definitely was not an embarrassment throughout. The judges even made what most considered to be the right call in the toughest fight to score of the night when they awarded Miesha Tate the win over Liz Carmouche.

There is definitely still work to be done with the commission, but that will come with more time and more events. As the name suggests, it was exclusively a boxing commission for a long time and it is just getting its feet wet when it comes to mixed martial arts. The commission will only get better with more native Floridians who are knowledgeable about the sport applying to become judges and referees.

World Series of Fighting is close to calling the Miami area a second home, behind Las Vegas, and there are rumors of the promotion bringing its huge July show to Tampa. Central Florida needs to become a hub for big fights. Pro boxer Miguel Cotto sold out the Amway Center, and now the UFC sold out the Amway Center. What more needs to be said?

If the right card is there, the fans will come out early in droves. There is no reason why the City Beautiful shouldn’t become at the very least an annual stop on Zuffa’s calendar.

About The Author

Trey Downey
Staff Writer

A Central Florida native, Trey Downey's interest in MMA came after a trip to Blockbuster and the rental of UFC 47 on VHS. He has been blogging about the sport since 2011 and hosted a podcast called The TD Experience focusing on football and MMA (touchdowns and takedowns). Trey studied radio and television at the University of Central Florida and will soon be attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Trey enjoys watching sports, pro wrestling and is an avid runner.