The UFC better do right by Saskatoon.

I’ll always have a soft spot for the city that I was born in and the city where I cut my teeth in journalism as an intern with the daily paper, The Star-Phoenix. I learned more in two internships there than I ever did in college, and it led to a 13-year stint in writing for newspapers and news services.

So it was with some level of delight that I read the news that the UFC was headed to the Paris of the Prairies. As part of the Maximum Fighting Championship staff, we tried for several years to be part of the push to legalize MMA in Saskatchewan – condemning those who were putting on shows under the guise of “amateur” without legislation and proper controls, and going so far as to have fairly serious talks with at least two venues, one in Saskatoon and one in provincial capital of Regina.

But like before, MMA was not going to get “done” in Saskatchewan until the UFC said it was coming. Once that was a virtual lock, just like in Ontario, suddenly a Saskatchewan commission was born, and, of course, no other show was going to happen before the UFC.

So the UFC, excuse me, the Saskatchewan government, was willing to make MMA fans in Saskatchewan wait for a big show to come to town. Now the UFC is coming, and it better be big.

I take nothing away from Max Holloway and Charles Oliveira in a featherweight clash. That’s a great fight and I’ll watch it for sure. But there better be more, much more, to the inaugural pro show in Saskatchewan.

Holloway vs. Oliveira is a great fight for those who will be watching Fight Night on August 23rd in the comfort of their den.

Holloway vs. Oliveira is not a great fight for those who will want to buy tickets to see the show in person.

Only the hardest of hardcore fans are going to recognize the names and talents of the two main eventers. The name UFC is huge, don’t get me wrong, but just putting that on the billboard outside of SaskTel Centre isn’t going to be enough to draw 10,000 fans, no matter what Tom Wright, the UFC’s boss of Canadian and Australian Operations, claims. Mr. Wright should know better and he best let Joe Silva and Sean Shelby know that if 10,000 is the goal he’s going to need some names.

I’m not a big stats guy, basically because I hate math. But numbers don’t lie. They don’t tell the whole story sometimes, but they don’t lie.

Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2 – 10,000 in Krakow, Poland (roughly 3X the population of Saskatoon)

Fight Night 54 – 10,782 in Halifax, NS (headlined by hipster heartthrob Rory McDonald)

TUF Nations Finale – 5,029 in Quebec City (Michael Bisping, Tim Kennedy and hometown hero Patrick Cote on the card)

Fight Night 56 – 5,671 in Brazil (Shogun Rua vs. Ovince St. Preux in the main event)

WEC 49 – 5,600 in Edmonton, AB

These examples are ones I plucked out for a variety of reasons.

The rematch of Gabriel Gonzaga against Cro Cop from one of the most hellacious KO’s of all-time was a foregone conclusion to be a solid ticket seller.

Rory (Three Nicknames Later) McDonald headlining for the first time in Canada as a rising (albeit terribly indifferent) star was another sure-fire hit, but the card will still stacked with names that resonated in Halifax – Chad Laprise, Elias Theodorou, Nordine Taleb and Mitch Gagnon.

Look at the names on the TUF Finale, and those don’t include familiar talents who were in featured and prelim fights – Sam Stout, Theodorou, Laprise, Taleb, Gagnon, and Mark Bocek. The crowd didn’t crack 6,000, and apparently comp tickets were abundant.

The legendary Shogun Rua in Brazil. Was this the fight that tipped the scales of attendance? Numbers in Brazil have declined since so much so that the last card in Goiania looked not even half full.

WEC’s first venture into Canada … oh, my. Living in Edmonton, we were told by Rex Harris how huge this show was going to be. How we’d seen nothing even close to it before, and anything we had seen would pale comparison. The announced crowd of 5,600 was a joke.

The actual crowd was more like 2,500, and I can guarantee you the vast majority of any touted number was comps. I was personally offered a fist-full of comps on two occasions, and know of several people who got the same offer and saw free tickets being tossed around at local bars like they were napkins. There wasn’t a single local fighter on the card for fans to get behind on the so-called big stage, Jamie Varner was supposed to draw thousands fighting Kamal Shalorus, and Edmonton fans were supposed to care about collection of fighters barely anyone had ever heard of. For those who will care to check, don’t forget this was Renan Barao of 2010, not of his 2011-2014 stint.

My illustration here is not to poo-poo on the UFC doing a show in Saskatoon. The fighters will love the city and the people (FYI – if you’re going to the show from out of town, stay at the Sheraton Cavalier hotel, and go have the Greek ribs at The Cave restaurant).

The point is that the UFC owes a good card to the fans. Don’t just say we’re coming and you have to buy tickets. Prove that the money is worth the tickets. Give the fans something to see. Give them some names that the casual, Saturday night viewer will recognize. The No. 5 and No. 7 featherweights are outstanding fighters, but they are not draws for a live audience.

How about Carlos Condit? How about Ben Henderson? How about Miesha Tate?

How about Roy Nelson riding into the arena on a tractor?

You want to really impress first-timers? How about Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping, Dan Henderson, Rampage Jackson?

Mr. Wright, Mr. Silva, Mr. Shelby, and Mr. Dana White … give Saskatoon the best you’ve got available. Don’t stiff the hardest-working people in Canada. Save the fancy names and their rankings for Vegas.

Bring the meat-and-potatoes guys to Toon Town.




About The Author

Scott Zerr
Staff Writer

Scott joins The MMA Corner having spent the last 14 years in mixed martial arts as Director of Media & Fighter Relations for the Maximum Fighting Championship. He will provide The MMA Corner with insight on breaking news in the sport, plus an insider's perspective on business developments, matchmaking, fighter signings, and much more. In addition to his longtime work in MMA, Scott was a sports reporter before moving into media relations and marketing. After growing up and working in Edmonton, Alberta, Scott has since moved to Bakersfield, California to be with his wife Christina (an avid fight fan, thank goodness) and kids.