By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — “Ladies and gentlemen. It’s time!”
Following nearly a week of warm-up events around the city, the Ultimate Fighting Championship finally arrived for the first time in the Manitoba capital on Saturday night. And UFC 161 didn’t disappoint the 14,754 inside a jam-packed and sold-out MTS Centre.
“I was supposed to work tonight — called in dead,” said 30-year-old fan John Paert. “They had a couple fighters drop out, but the ones that stepped up made the card. If we didn’t have those I definitely wouldn’t have showed up.”
Paert speaks of the two bouts that were supposed to headline the event, as interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao was forced to drop his fight against Eddie Wineland because of a foot injury, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira had to pull out of his bout with Mauricio Rua because of a herniated disc in his back.
Regardless, the fans came out in droves and the place was electric and near-deafening at times.
“Wow. This is bigger than I thought it was,” said Bob Mackow, a 48-year-old who describes himself as a non-fan of UFC but bought ten tickets for his employees to enjoy. “For me, I just wanted to check out the experience. And it’s cool. I’m actually really enjoying it.”
27-year-olds Jeremy Frederickson and Graham Meyer paid over $500 each for tickets.
“This city has an even keel, but when they bring an event such as the UFC… it means a lot. There’s a lot of support from a lot of people,” said Frederickson.
But was dropping half a grand worth it?
“Always. Always,” added Frederickson. “What’s better than spending the big dollars and coming to see a show that was never going to come here. When’s the next time this is going to come here?”
Winnipegger Roland Delorme won his match by unanimous decision over Edwin Figueroa of McKinney, Texas, while Port Colborne, Ontario-native Alexis Davis also claimed a unanimous decision over Manchester, England’s Rosi Sexton which also happened to be the first women’s UFC match on Canadian soil.
Overall, Canadian fighters went 6-1 among Saturday’s eleven bouts.
There was an upset in the main event, as ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans took a split-decision over Dan ‘Hendo’ Henderson to cap the evening.
The event also shattered the all-time gate sales total for MTS Centre with $3.15-million.