TORONTO -- The last time I was in the city for an event was in April 2011 when the UFC was everywhere you turned. There were billboards overlooking its roadways and banners atop streetlights. Commercials seemed omnipresent. News programs featured the sport's biggest personalities. There was a real feeling that it was not just a massive MMA show, but a major sporting event.
Things are different this time around. The commercials are still bombarding the airwaves and the fans who have attended promotional events so far this week seem excited, but the intensity of it all seems dialed down. It's been like that all week. I passed through airport customs on Wednesday morning and was asked what I was here for. When I told him the official answer, he asked me why there was no super buzz for the event.
Perhaps getting the historic UFC 129 show as their introduction to MMA spoiled the locals here, but as of Friday, the show was still not sold out. The UFC was still expecting a healthy crowd and gate, but considering that UFC president Dana White has called Canada the "Mecca" of MMA, anything short of a full house for a show featuring two title matches is a bit surprising.
Here are some of the things I've gleaned from my time in T.O.
Michael Bisping is a company man
The Brit has long been one of MMA's villains, but it seems as though he gets more and more love each time out. It's as if fans boo him as an homage to his history, but in reality, they like him. He always gives them a show, he fights hard, and he always sells the heck out of his fight.
During this week, he not only sold his own with Brian Stann, but through his constant mentions of Joseph Benavidez, he helped add some much needed attention to the flyweight title bout. Even if some of the attention came at Benavidez's expense, it's still a spotlight on a significant fight. And let's be honest, that type of biting promotion is exactly what everyone expects from Bisping. Well done.
Ontario commission needs to ratchet up drug testing
This week, the UFC confirmed that it would again be paying for drug testing with an independent laboratory while the province's athletic commission stands to the side and simply supervises the process. The UFC has brought three major events here in 17 months, bringing major tourist dollars and tax revenue with it. As a result, the Ontario commission needs to step up and draft regulations that give it control of the drug testing procedures. Even though the UFC has self-reported positive drug tests in the past, why should they be tasked with essentially regulating themselves? Also, consider that earlier this week, Canada's The Score reported that the UFC declined to disclose if any UFC 152 fighters had requested a therapeutic use exemption for TRT. Most athletic commissions who test on their own would release those facts as public information.
Hollywood execs should consider The Bisping and Benavidez comedy team
The two have been playfully jabbing at each other all week, and have gotten off some of the best one-liners in the process. At one point, Bisping claimed that Benavidez apologized to him for past comments and "turned down a fight with my son," which got a big laugh from the assembled crowd. Later, when Bisping ranted at a questioner for a query he dismissed and then turned the microphone over to Benavidez, the flyweight shrugged and teased him for his accent saying, "I didn't understand a word you said." The visuals of the 6-foot-2 Bisping and 5-foot-4 Benavidez alone would make for a great buddy cop show, don't you think?
Talk about a stressful and exciting family weekend. On Saturday night, Jon Jones looks to defend his UFC light-heavyweight championship. The next day, his brothers, NFL players Arthur and Chandler, play against each other on Sunday Night Football. The Jones boys have a chance to become the one of the most significant brother trios of all-time, joining others like baseball's DiMaggios, Molinas and Alous and basketball's Barrys. That's pretty good company.
Speaking of Jones, he looked pretty relaxed in the eye of the storm on Friday night. After weighing in and rehydrating, Jones spent some time in the lobby of his hotel where he did a lengthy autograph and photo session with fans, a pretty rare sight on the eve of fight night. According to his management, his much-anticipated meeting with Dana White went very well.
Two Rounds or Less
If you're looking for a prop bet for this show, bet the main event to go less than two rounds. Even one of Vitor Belfort's coaches Mario Sperry said that he doesn't expect the fight to last that long. I don't know if he's saying that's based upon Belfort's game plan, fight history, conditioning, or some combination of everything. Either way, it's unlikely to take that long. Earlier this week, Belfort was pushing nearly 220 pounds, so his conditioning can't be at its best.
I've seen many mentions made of Belfort's calmness during this week, with speculation about whether his state of mind means anything towards the way he performs. I guess the belief is that compared to the besieged Jones, he is unburdened. But two things I'd like to bring up here. Belfort had the same serene demeanor before fighting Anderson Silva last year, and that didn't end well for him. Also, Jones compartmentalizes better than nearly anyone in MMA. He's never brought outside distractions into the cage with him in the past, and there's little reason to believe he'll start now.
Just throwing this out there but my pick for Fight of the Night is the main card opener between Charles Oliveira and Cub Swanson. I felt a little more confident about it before Oliveira missed weight, but both of these featherweights are action fighters, and they might not even need a full round to clinch that bonus money.
After talking to Demetrious Johnson's coach Matt Hume, I would have a hard time not appreciating what DJ has done to get here. When he first stepped into an MMA gym, a fight career was never a thought in his head, he was just so good that it happened. Johnson has worked his way up the ladder quickly, but not without obstacles. He had a full time job as recently as last year as he trained for a UFC bantamweight title bout. His mother has been battling bone cancer for a while now, too, and Johnson has spent a lot of time driving her to treatment. Sometimes, he was doing this all in one day: full-time job, break to help out mom, train. Start the next day and do it all over again. But according to Hume, Johnson never failed to come to the gym with a smile on his face, and it would be hard not to feel good if someone who loves what he's doing so much and worked so hard at it reaches the apex of his sport.