TORONTO - UFC president Dana White rolls into Toronto on Tuesday, looking to give mixed martial arts fans a taste of the UFC while reminding local authorities of the popularity of the sport.
A question-and-answer session with White followed by a chance to get fighter autographs from Canadians Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout and Krzysztof Soszynski is bound to draw a crowd at the Eaton Centre. The UFC, looking to get the sport of mixed martial arts sanctioned in Ontario, no doubt hopes provincial politicians will take notice.
South of the border, the UFC is working on the final pieces in the sanctioning puzzle. Massachusetts and New York top that list, along with West Virginia, Connecticut and Vermont.
Those are the final U.S. jurisdictions without MMA regulations, other than Alaska and Wyoming which do not have athletic commissions.
With Montreal slated to hold a UFC event in May for a third straight year and Vancouver coming on board in June, Ontario is the major Canadian holdout left for the UFC.
In February, however, Premier Dalton McGuinty said sanctioning MMA was not high on his list.
"It's just not a priority for us at this point in time, we have higher priorities when it comes to developing those jobs and strengthening the economy," McGuinty said.
"We have other things on the go right now, and we'll stay focused on those, whether that's our tax reforms, stimulating the economy through investments in infrastructure, getting our children better opportunities at the outset."
White remains optimistic, despite McGuinty's comments.
"The way that I took his comments were 'I'm running the government here and there's a lot of things that I'm working on and this isn't on the top of the list,"' White told The Canadian Press. "He didn't say no and he didn't say it's not going to happen."
"But there's just so many rabid MMA fans," he added. "I bet this guy is so sick about hearing about MMA."
Asked if the sport will eventually get sanctioned, White said: "Absolutely."
White already has the support of Ontario Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"If I were premier, this would have happened by now," he said Monday of sanctioning the sport. "Quite frankly it's an enormous tourism opportunity."
The Tory leader also said the stance on MMA was typical of the premier.
"Dalton McGuinty has shown a peculiar obsession with regulating the pesticides we can use on our lawn, what snacks your kids can take to school, what kind of breed of dog you can own in the province of Ontario.
"He's increasingly turned into a bit of a premier-dad."
White's visit to Toronto is also timed the week that Canadian star Georges St-Pierre defends his welterweight title against England's Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy.
The UFC boss calls his visit a thank you to Canada.
"I say it all the time, how much I love the fans from Canada," he said. "Not only do I love the fans in Canada, I love the media too. The media up there is so great and way ahead of the United States and everywhere else. They treat the sport the way that it should be. I love Canada, period."
"Brock might not, but I do," he added, referring to heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, who dumped on Canadian health care recently.
The UFC has long said that Canada is one of its most vibrant markets and Canadian fans can be found at events "all over the world," according to White.
"Everywhere we go, it's incredible," he said. "It's mind-boggling."
UFC 83, the organization's Canadian debut in April 2008, was the UFC's fastest sellout. The crowd of 20,011 was the organization's largest, as well as the biggest MMA crowd ever in North America. The Montreal attendance erased the previous record of 19,049, set at UFC 68 on March 3, 2007, at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The pre-sale for UFC 83 exceeded 13,000 in the first 24 hours and the remaining tickets sold out within one minute of the public sale.
UFC 97, in April 2009, also sold out almost instantly.
White said there were 2,800 tickets left this time for UFC 113 on May 8 at the Bell Centre.
"Twenty-eight hundred tickets with two months to go. That's a sellout," White said. "It just didn't sell out in four minutes."