It’s starting to become disturbingly routine: book a UFC card in Canada, a hotbed for MMA. Then watch it slowly unravel due to injury and other unfortunate circumstances.

While injuries do happen, and the UFC have fared exceptionally well so far in 2015, UFC 186 in Montreal later this month seems to be, frankly, part of the “Canadian Curse” – PPV events booked in Canada that wind up looking like underwhelming FOX Sports cards.

The curse started, perhaps, with UFC 149 in Calgary. The promotion’s inaugural event in Alberta, the show was booked with Jose Aldo headlining against Erik Koch, but Aldo pulled out. Big Nog was expected to face Cheick Kongo, but Nogueira pulled out. Bibiano Fernandes was announced as appearing, having supposedly signed with the UFC, then that fell through as well; no deal was made, and he would go on to win the ONE FC bantamweight championship a year later. Michael Bigsping, expected to fight Hector Lombard, also pulled out with injury. Shogun Rua vs. Thiago Silva was cut from the card due to an injury to Silva.

Fans in Calgary were less than impressed. The Canadian media mirrored this.

Thanks to Georges St. Pierre appearing in Montreal against Nick Diaz at UFC 158, the flub was quickly forgotten, but Dana White has continued to say he “owes” Calgary.

What about Winnipeg?

The UFC made its debut in the province of Manitoba with UFC 161 in Winnipeg in June 2013. And immediately, things again fell apart. An interim bantamweight title fight between Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland saw Barao out with a foot injury. Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans, a suitable co-main event at that time, was bumped up to the headlining slot, where it was anything but stellar. Roy “Big Country” Nelson won himself some extra fans by stepping in short notice to fight Stipe Miocic (and probably cost himself a fourth straight win in the process), but even with Nelson on the card, the line-up looked grim. Shogun Rua was again expected to fight in Canada once again, this time against Little Nog, however, Nogueira injured his back and had to pull out. While Chael Sonnen was floated as a replacement, possible VISA issues meant the bout was scrapped entirely.

Again, a fantastic event not too far down the road helped smooth things over. UFC 165 in Toronto was a smashing success featuring one of the greatest title fights in UFC history between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.

Flash forward a couple of years, however. The UFC, while pushing global expansion, arguably overlooked a key market, and despite promising an increasing number of shows in Canadian territory, failed to follow through. A big event in Toronto, Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 (which later became Jones vs. Cormier), was moved, as Dana White felt only Las Vegas deserved a fight of that calibre. Talk of a return to Alberta failed to pay off. While Halifax saw a Fight Night in 2014, Quebec City an Ultimate Fighter finale (Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia, headlined by Michael Bisping vs. Tim Kennedy), and Vancouver UFC 174, this seemed far from what the UFC laid out at the start of the year, and was half the number of visits the promotion made to Brazil. Fans north of the border were definitely let down.

2015 was supposed to change that. Once again, there was talk of five events in Canada. Then Windsor, a frequent stop for Bellator MMA over the years, lost an event under cloudy circumstances early in 2015. A Toronto date seemed always on the horizon, but continually pushed back, to the point that either late 2015 or early 2016 now seems to be most likely, if then. There’s supposedly a return to Alberta still penciled in for August, but the only certainty in the UFC’s Canadian MMA plans is UFC 186 in Montreal — and like UFC 149 and UFC 161, it seems to be a cursed card. Out is T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao 2, due to injury. Out is the return of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, due to court injunction. Out is Rory MacDonald vs. Hector Lombard due to Lombard’s PED suspension and Ares being granted a title shot this Summer. Left is Demetrious Johnson defending his title against Kyoji Horiguchi, seen by many as a cakewalk for Mighty Mouse. Left also is Michael Bisping, who has fought often in Canada, and who at least adds some name value to the struggling card.

Some have begun calling for the cancellation of the event, as it’s seen as little more than a repeat of the underwhelming UFC 174, the lowest selling, most derided UFC PPV card in recent memory. Yet despite the struggles, it would be unwise for the UFC to cancel this card. There have been only two cancellations in Zuffa-era UFC history, with one being less than a year ago. Given the promotion’s struggles in the Canadian market, any event, even a weak one, might be better than no event at all.

What the UFC needs to do is take Benson Henderson up on his recent offer to “save” the card. Henderson’s an exciting fighter who has a lot of visibility thanks to his time as lightweight champion and numerous headlining slots on Fox cards. He’s stated he can make welterweight by UFC 186, and he’s coming off his first win in the UFC’s welterweight division.

This one’s a no brainer. And it might be worthwhile to see who else is willing to step up on short notice. The fans in Montreal, and Canada in general, deserve as much. The fans ordering on PPV (if they are willing to order the event) deserve as much as well.

And moving forward, the UFC needs to work to reestablish itself in the Canadian market.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.