As the UFC's 2015 schedule becomes clearer, a major focal point moving forward for international executive Tom Wright is ironing out the details of promotion's grand entrance into Melbourne.
Mixed martial arts has been legal for some time in the Australian state of Victoria, however competition within a cage was strictly prohibited under the previous Liberal government. Wright now sees the reversal of that ban as "imminent" following recent electoral wins by the Victorian Labor party, and while nothing is yet finalized, the wheels have been set in motion for the UFC to debut in the region with a blockbuster UFC 193 pay-per-view offering in Nov. 2015 at Etihad Stadium, a venue which seats over 50,000 spectators.
"Clearly our intention has been, when we have a chance to lift this Octagon ban, that we wanted to bring a large event (to Australia)," Wright, the UFC's managing director in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said on Mondays' edition of The MMA Hour. "And we do have Etihad Stadium being held in November. You've got one chance to make that first impression, as you well know.
"We did that certainly in Ontario, we held an event in Toronto (UFC 129). So that is the kind of thing that's on the books, it's planned for, but until you see either Dana or Lorenzo confirm it, then that's how we manage things. So I'll be having those conversations this week while I'm here in Las Vegas, and I think there's a lot of really good compelling reasons to look at it and have this opportunity to really make an entry into Victoria."
Wright confirmed previous reports that at least one, if not two, UFC titles could be on line when the event reaches its final form. He also noted that the pay-per-view broadcast would be time adjusted for western audiences -- meaning a Sunday morning start time for Australians to preserve a Saturday night platform in North America.
Should the event come to fruition, it could very well approach the UFC's previous attendance record, 55,724, set by UFC 129 on April 30, 2011 at Toronto's Rogers Centre in a show that marked the promotion's debut in Ontario.
Still, much remains up in air at this juncture. All of the UFC's international officials are convening this week in Las Vegas to lay the groundwork for the new year, and while he couldn't delve too deeply into specifics, Wright offered a handful of nuggets about what could be in store for the Australian and Canadian markets in 2015.
Size of potential UFC stadium show in Australia
"We may scale it for 30,000 (seats), we may scale it for 40,000. We haven't made those decisions. You may recall when we went to Toronto, we originally scaled that event to be 40,000, and after day one I think we had sold all 40,000 of those tickets and that's when we opened up the upper deck and started adding more seats. So we're not going to there with this anticipation or this expectation, or even this objective, to set the all-time record. We're going there to make sure it's an incredible first time experience for our Australian and New Zealand, and frankly fans from around the world, to see what it's like to witness a UFC live event."
Number of Canadian events on UFC's 2015 schedule
"I can't tell you definitively. I can tell you it's going to be anywhere from three to as many as five, and once again those are the kinds of things that we're discussing this week. Because you know how it works, I'm looking for three to five events as year, and I'm looking for a number of events in Australia, then my Brazilian counterpart is looking for this number of events, and then we've got broadcast commitments that we have to take care of around the world. So the quick answer is that it'll be somewhere between three and five.
"The best I can tell you is that I expect to know definitively in early January what the entire schedule is going to be."
State of UFC's new Canadian TV deal
"Well I can guarantee you, Ariel, your fans and our fans, that they will be able to watch it. I can't tell you exactly where at this stage, but chances are if you invite me on your show next week or the week after, I can tell you. It is that close.
"It did (take longer than I expected), but I think it's all going to be terrific when we finalize all these details. These kinds of things do take time because you want to make sure you're doing right for not only yourselves, but also for our broadcast partners and for our fans, making sure that our content is as readily available to as many people as possible. So they're not easy discussions, they're not easy negotiations, but they're important and that's why they take time."
Whether Rory MacDonald will get next welterweight title shot
"Listen I'd love to see it happen, but you know, I watched [Lawler-Hendricks 2]. I was in Mandalay Bay on Saturday night just as well as you, and it's interesting, I actually scored it for Johny. But in the end, it happens. We always say this, don't leave it in the hands of the judges. It was a close fight, Lawler really came on strongly as you know, so the quick answer is: in the end, I'm not the matchmaker and I think at some juncture we'll have to decide whether or not there's a rematch or a trilogy, and when Rory will get his opportunity.
"But I guess the other side of it, to directly answer your question, I think that when the time comes for Rory to have a shot at that title -- if he has to wait for the trilogy fight to happen then so be it -- but when the time comes for that title shot, I'd love to have it in Canada. And the places where it might be, it could be in Calgary, it could be in Toronto, or it could be in Montreal."
Chances Georges St-Pierre returns in 2015
"I don't have any inside information, but I'm pretty confident that he will. I'm really hopeful that he does for a bunch of reasons. For himself, first and foremost, because I think he wants to be able to perhaps accomplish some unfinished business. I think that when you're an elite world class championship athlete like he is, it's tough to walk away from the sport. He's a competitor, he loves our sport, and he loves to compete, so ... in the end it's going to be his call, but I'm really hopeful that it happens."