UFC 129: Whoa, Canada! Take notes NY

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UFC 129 fighters Georges St-Pierre,left, and Jake Shields, UFC 129 fighters Georges St-Pierre,left, and Jake Shields, right, pose in front of UFC president Dana White, center, at a news conference in Toronto. (Feb. 8, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial

In his 10 years as president of the UFC, Dana White has carved out this reputation of being a brash, tough-talking, in-your-face guy who says what's on his mind, even if that's not always the prudent thing to do. He believes wholeheartedly in his vision of making mixed martial arts the biggest sport in the world. Rarely will he cop to being shaky about something.

Until now.

As much game as White talks about opening up new markets and putting the UFC into 1 billion homes worldwide, even he felt a little shaky about doing an event in the Rogers Centre, formerly the Sky Dome, in Toronto.

"I'm normally pretty cocky about this stuff," White said. "When we put 42,000 on sale, I'll admit that I was a little nervous about it. I'm absolutely blown away by the response."

In its first foray into stadium-based events, the UFC sold 42,000 tickets on the first day. And that was just a pre-sale to UFC Fight Club members. Then, Rogers Centre and UFC officials re-configured the seating plans and sold another 13,000 tickets on Friday and Saturday. Fifty-five thousands tickets. Let's look at that in numerical form: 55,000 tickets.

That produced a gate of $11 million, a venue and company record. UFC 129 on April 30 is expected to generate more than $40 million in economic activity for the city of Toronto, White said.

Are you listening, New York?

"When you do your first arena, the question always is, 'OK, we sold out 23,000 tickets but how many people were really looking for tickets?" White said. "More than that? Now, I'm sitting here with 55,000 sold out, and I'm still thinking the same thing."

Toronto was one of the last holdouts in Canada in the race to legalize MMA. After the law passed, some still objected to the sport. How about now? The ticket sales alone generated an estimated $1.5 million in tax revenue for Toronto, White said.

Are you listening, New York?

Next Saturday, UFC 127 features BJ Penn against Jon Fitch for the second UFC card in Australia. The UFC had to add more seats after that event sold out. Later this summer, the UFC will head to Brazil for its first fights there since 1998. Even closer to home, on March 19, the UFC will return to Newark, N.J., a month after Strikeforce made its New Jersey debut at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.

Are you listening, New York?

The ticket explosion in Toronto is a new milestone for the sport of mixed martial arts. Attendance that large - more than double the average CFL and Toronto Blue Jays games in 2010 - certainly draws interest and intrigue from outsiders.

It's not unreasonable to extrapolate from this the possibility of a hosting an event at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, home of Super Bowl XLV. MMA has been legal in Texas for a while, but with the right fighters on the card, the UFC could come close to breaking the mark set in Toronto. The Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottery boxing match drew 51,000 at Cowboys stadium last March.

"We sell out arenas here all the time, but the reality is as we started to take this thing international, and what I've been saying for a long time is that this is going to be the biggest sport in the world," White said. "And I think people might be - might think I'm not nuts any more."

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