From Mecca to Outlander, Canada loses its place in MMA

61f9e7fc98b11beda1f7427d58379565It’s easy to be frustrated these days if you’re a MMA fan north of the border. When the news broke last week that Canadian Rory MacDonald was removed from UFC 186 in Montreal, you could hear the collective groans from Canucks coast to coast. Bad luck or not, the reaction remains similar for what’s been a difficult year for fans up in the “Great White North.” For years Canada has been a top notch destination not only for the UFC, but MMA promotions in general. It seems like only yesterday that Dana White proclaimed Canada to be the “mecca of MMA”. But the allure of running shows north of the 49th parallel seems to have waned. Over the years Canadians had been flying in first class and now we’ve been regulated to coach. While much of the frustration focuses on the UFC, the reality is MMA across the board has been diminishing in a number of different areas.   Lack of Canadian Events For years the UFC was consistent with hosting Canadian events including annual cards in Toronto and Montreal, while also adding additional dates in different provinces across Canada. But that all changed when they moved the scheduled UFC 178 card in Toronto last September to Las Vegas instead. The reasoning, according to UFC President Dana White, was that “Vegas just wanted it more. “ Not only did that leave a sour taste in the mouth of Canadians, but also began to turn the wheels on the idea that Canada wasn’t a priority for the UFC anymore. Not three months later, UFC’s card in Montreal was also cancelled, leaving the two largest Canadian markets out in the cold for 2015. So far this year, the only official UFC Canadian destination announced is the April 26th event in Montreal for UFC 186. A rumored UFC Fight Night event March 7th in Windsor was withdrawn and no other Canadian locations have been confirmed at the moment. UFC’s Canada office has also been very quiet in 2015. UFC Canada President Tom Wright hasn’t spoken publicly since the UFC card in Halifax last October and hasn’t tweeted from his official Twitter account since November. It’s not just the UFC that’s cutting back on events; sources are saying Bellator will not be making their annual return to Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario this year. The Viacom-owned promotion has made it known that they are slashing events in 2015, and Canada has apparently become a casualty. The longest running Canadian promotion, the Maximum Fighting Championships, has yet to announce any future events and rumors have circulated that the promotion could be ending their 14-year tenure. The usually bombastic MFC President Mark Pavelich has remained silent on social media and unfollowed a number of MMA fighters and media on his personal Twitter account. In addition a number of MFC fighters such as Shane Campbell (WSOF) and Marcus Edwards (Titan FC) are now competing for different promotions. World Series of Fighting held an event in Canada last Thursday (and is slated to hold another one in June with WSOF 21: Ford vs. Okami) but all Canadian dates seem to be hosted exclusively in Edmonton. In fact, the province of Alberta seems to be one of the few lifelines for local Canadian MMA as Havoc FC, Hard Knocks, Unified MMA and King of the Cage Canada are all hosting smaller events. B.C. remains consistent with Battlefield Fight League and Quebec is running a few local shows in the coming months. However Ontario appears to be inactive on that front, and that’s not a good thing for the growth of Canadian MMA across the board. Television Rights and Coverage The exclusive UFC Canadian television rights changed hands at the beginning of the year when (Rogers) Sportsnet lost the rights to a joint bid put together by TSN (Bell Media) and specialty channel Fight Network. This deal also brought geoblock restrictions for Canadian Fight Pass users for the very first time. Since the new deal, fans have expressed mixed reviews. While TSN is a staple for Canadian sports fans, Fight Network is a higher-tier cable offering. Fight Network produces some of the best MMA coverage in the business but most casual fans won’t get to view their content unless they opt to pay extra for the channel. Sportsnet aired all UFC events on their SN360 channel; TSN has chosen to spread out offerings over their five different platforms, causing fans to switch between channels to watch an entire event. MMA fans assumed that with the new deal, TSN would also host a weekly MMA show similar to when Sportsnet aired weekly episodes of “UFC Central” but so far that hasn’t happened. TSN’s coverage of MMA has remained minimal, with the last UFC event (UFC Fight Night 60) only earning a total of 20 seconds of highlights on Sportscentre. It seems odd that TSN doesn’t have a greater interest in promoting programming they have recently acquired the rights to. But it’s not just a lack of coverage with the UFC. World Series of Fighting, Titan FC and MFC don’t have television rights in Canada. Live streams for all these promotions are also geo-blocked, which forces Canadians to use “alternative” methods to view events in real time. As well, AXS TV doesn’t have a television carrier in Canada, so we also miss out on a lot of regional MMA across the United States. Quality of Events With Canadian favourite MacDonald pulled off the UFC 186 event – due to his opponent Hector Lombard failing a post-fight drug test at UFC 182 – the UFC replaced that fight with the flyweight championship match between champion Demetrious Johnson and Kyoji Horiguchi. The majority of hardcore fans see this championship bout as non-competitive and casual fans don’t register with Johnson as he has thus far been a failure as a box office attraction. Currently, the only Canadian on the UFC 186 main card in Yves Jabouin and that simply won’t sell tickets for the local fanbase. Add that in with the fact that UFC 174 PPV in Vancouver last June was a PPV disaster (lowest PPV buyrate since UFC 53) and saw fans streaming towards the exits during Johnson’s main event, one would think the UFC would produce a stronger PPV in their return to Montreal. The bad luck doesn’t just extend to the UFC; the WSOF 18 event this past Thursday in Edmonton (aside from the championship main event) lacked any sort of star power from the WSOF roster. Considering that promotion has the likes of Jake Shields, Melvin Guillard and Rousimar Palhares on the roster, this event felt like more of a WSOF Canada show than a regular WSOF event. Call it bad luck or bad timing, the Canadian MMA fans are the ones losing in the end. Short-term or long-term decline? There are a number of factors which have contributed to the decline in Canada. Georges St-Pierre leaving the sport has significantly hurt the UFC’s willingness to hosts events here. He was a major chip for the promotion, the same way Conor McGregor has now become an asset for the UFC and their return to Ireland. Other than MacDonald, the UFC doesn’t have any major Canadian stars. Fighters like Elias Theodorou and Randa Markos have garnered a lot of attention this past year and have star potential, but haven’t reached the level of a major ticket attraction yet. It also doesn’t help when the UFC continues to pump out more events than ever, where the majority of cards appear thin on overall talent. So while Canadians MMA fans face this new reality, the real question remains, are we witnessing the decline from the peak? Or is this simply a rough patch? 2015 could be a make or break year for MMA in Canada, it will be interesting to see how promoters and fans alike respond.

Written by James Lynch

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