UFC 129 was a historic night for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. A North America-record crowd of 55,724 saw a little bit of everything that MMA has to offer, including two title fights, with Jose Aldo defending his featherweight title against local favorite Mark Hominick and Georges St. Pierre defending the welterweight championship against Jake Shields.
The excitement and hype for this card in Toronto was simply off the charts. The atmosphere inside Rogers Centre was absolutely incredible and will not soon be forgotten by anybody who witnessed it live. With the show going off without a hitch, the logical question is this: When the UFC will hold its next stadium show?
The UFC did a terrific job with UFC 129. The combination of the right place, the right fighters and the right situation drew that house in Toronto on Saturday. With it being the UFC's initial endeavor in Ontario, the show was going to do incredible almost regardless of who was on the card. But when you add in St. Pierre, a hero in Canada, that's when you can go from running Air Canada Centre to running The Stadium Formerly Known As SkyDome. Factor in having a Canadian in 10 of the 12 bouts and you have the recipe for a show that shatters records.
Canada's strong sense of national pride is what really boosted this card. Canadians are proud to be Canadians and when it comes to sports, they let you know. It didn't matter that Rory MacDonald's home of Kelowna, British Columbia is more than 2,500 miles away from Toronto. He was a Canadian and was cheered louder than anyone not named St. Pierre and Hominick.
When it comes to the possibility of running a stadium show in the United States, the UFC cannot employ the same formula it did for UFC 129. It's simply a different ballgame in the U.S. St. Pierre is loved in America, but not to the tune of 55,724 people like he is in Canada. Right now, I'm fairly confident the UFC doesn't have a fight, fighter or a fertile-enough market that could draw in a stadium on the level of UFC 129 in the United States. For a stadium show to draw in America, it would have to be the single most stacked card in UFC history. You couldn't just put a bunch of random Americans on the card along with an American champion, say Jon Jones, and have it sell like UFC 129 did. It just would not happen.
Just look at the markets in the U.S. that have domed or retractable roof stadiums: There's my hometown of Detroit, and although UFC 123 sold out at The Palace of Auburn Hills, I just don't think a show at Ford Field would do the same (although considering the numbers WWE did for two WrestleManias in the city, plus the close proximity to Canada, maybe it wouldn't be the worst option). Then there's places like Indianapolis, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Minneapolis, to name a few. None of those names stand out and none of those cities have the local draw that would be needed to populate stadiums as large as those. For the most part, those aren't destination cities like a Toronto is in Canada, or a New York or Chicago would be in the United States. They don't have the media bases of those cities, nor would the media be as friendly as the traditional Canadian media was. On my way home from UFC 129, I picked up a copy of the Sunday Sun and it featured 16 pages of coverage of UFC 129. My mind was completely blown. Could you imagine the New York Post or Chicago Tribune dedicating that type of coverage to UFC? Not in a million years.
As much as Dana White and Co. might want to run a stadium show in the United States, I just don't see it making sense, even for a potential fight between St. Pierre and Anderson Silva (which if that happens and it isn't at Rogers Centre, I'd be shocked). There's only one other place outside of Canada when a stadium show might work and that's England with Michael Bisping challenging Silva for the middleweight title.
The dynamics between Canada and England are quite similar when it comes to fighting. There's a sense of national pride and a show chock full of Brits fighting Americans and others would do very well. If those two met at City of Manchester Stadium (where Ricky Hatton has fought before) or Wembley Stadium, it would likely be big, but again, would have to be a stacked show with the top British stars the company has and then some. Although I should temper those two locations because it might be tough for the UFC to have the type of production it had at Rogers Centre in those two venues.
UFC 129 was special, both because of the atmosphere but also because the card was well-booked and turned out extremely well. There are a lot of variables when it comes to running a stadium show, the most important of which is having the right fight. It can't just be a date on the calendar every year. That's why it will be important for the UFC to continue to do its homework and carefully pick and choose which fights it wants to do stadium shows with. Each stadium show is going to be a risk. Now it becomes about finding the best situation and executing it.