If you don’t know by now, Canadians love the UFC, and the UFC loves Canadians. That’s why in 2014, the promotion is bumping the number of annual visits “north of the border” to five, up from the traditional three.
In a press conference held on Wednesday in Quebec City, UFC Director of Operations in Canada Tom Wright unveiled the full slate of events the UFC is planning for 2014 -- some of them familiar, some of them new.
All of them indicative of the UFC’s growth.
The UFC will kick off its Canada tour on April 16 in Quebec City with The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia Finale. Wright announced that lightweights Sam Stout and KJ Noons will square off as part of the main card, as well as Tim Gorman and Mitch Gagnon. Also slated to fight at the coaches from the international series, Quebec-native Patrick Cote and Australia’s Kyle Noke, and the finalists from the show.
From there the Octagon will cross the country, making its return to Vancouver for the first time since 2011. UFC 174 will take place at the Rogers Arena on June 14.
The other stops for the UFC in 2014 include its fourth trip to Toronto (UFC 178 on September 27 at Air Canada Centre), its first visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia (scheduled as a UFC Fight Night on October 4 at the Halifax Metro Centre) and Montreal (UFC 181 on December 6 at the Bell Centre).
As part of the unveiling, Wright introduced a fighter from each corresponding location to speak on behalf of the growth of MMA in Canada. Patrick Cote kicked things off by announcing the UFC’s first show in Quebec City, followed by women’s bantamweight contender Sarah Kaufman (British Columbia), Sam Stout (Ontario), lightweight contender TJ Grant (Nova Scotia) and Alex Garcia (Montreal). Each pointed out the progress that MMA has made over the years, and in some cases work that still needs to be done.
When speaking about the UFC’s return to Toronto for UFC 178, London, Ontario’s Stout talked about the early travails he faced in fighting in the province -- as well as some that are ongoing.
“It was really exciting for me when [MMA] became legalized in Ontario,” Stout said. “I always had to come to the province of Quebec early in my career to get fights and travel all around and fly around the country. It’s great to see the opportunity for the younger guys coming up in my gym to fight in Ontario and not have to go so far.
“That being said, I’d like to see some more smaller shows popping up. It’s a little difficult right now with the financial constraints that the Ontario Athletic Commission is putting on some of the promoters. It’s very expensive to put on a show, which makes it very difficult for the smaller organizations to build. I’d like to see that change. But it’s great to able to see some of the newer guys at my gym be able to fight so close to home.”
To this Wright said that the UFC was in the process of helping out in that regard, in an effort to help lend a hand to smaller local promotions.
“It’s interesting to hear you say that, Sam, about the development of the sport on the grassroots level, because when we opened up our office in Toronto back in 2010, our mandate was to take our sport and grow it across the country as quickly as possible,” Wright said. “And you spoke specifically about what’s going on in Ontario with the athletic commission, I can tell you interestingly that tomorrow [Thursday] I have a meeting with government officials in Ontario to speak just to those issues.
“What we want to do, when you try and build a new sport, when you’re trying to grow a sport you have to make sure that it’s as accessible to as many individuals as possible. You want to have individual fighters have a chance to compete, to learn their trade, and hopefully have an opportunity to compete at the highest level, which would be the UFC. So I think it’s incumbent on us to work hard with the government in Ontario to try to improve the situation so that more local promotions can come forward and more things can be done to help grow the sport in that province.”
Wright also announced that the UFC will visit other areas of Canada as part of the UFC Experience -- a exhibition which allows fans to get up close and personal with the fighters -- this summer. Among the cities that the UFC Experience will visit are Regina, Saskatchewan, Kelowna, British Columbia, London, Ontario and Lethbridge, Alberta.
UFC’s 2014 Canada event schedule
April 16, The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia Finale, in Quebec City (Pepsi Coliseum)
June 14, UFC 174, in Vancouver, British Columbia (at Rogers Arena)
September 27, UFC 178, in Toronto, Canada (at Air Canada Centre)
October 4, UFC Fight Night, in Halifax, Nova Scotia (at Halifax Metro Centre)
December 6, UFC 181, in Montreal, Quebec (at Bell Centre)