George Sotiropoulos (right) lost to Ross Pearson at the Gold Coast.The UFC again created history in a second Australian state on the weekend, with a record-breaking gate for its live event on the Gold Coast — but its dreams of doing the same in Victoria are still no closer to fruition.
More than 5000 fans — each paying a minimum of $175 for a seat — packed the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday for UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs Pearson.
Beamed live to an international audience, the 10-bout card was the culmination of the UFC’s first Australian series of The Ultimate Fighter — this one, contested between British and Australian fighters, dubbed The Smashes.Missed UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs Pearson? Relive it here with our play-by-play coverage of the event
The $900,000 gate for the event set a new record for the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, the second such record the UFC has set in Australia, following similar success at Sydney’s Acer Arena the past two years.
It leaves the Melbourne market as the UFC’s next target — but that cannot happen unless the Victorian government lifts its ban on mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts being conducted in a fenced ring. Currently, MMA bouts are permitted in roped rings, similar to boxing, but cannot be held in a fenced ring. That leaves the UFC — the biggest sanctioning body for the fastest growing sport on the planet — on the outer, as its bouts are contested in a fenced “Octagon”.
Speaking after the Gold Coast event, the UFC’s head of international relations, Marshall Zelaznik, said discussions were continuing with the Victorian government, although a resolution may be some time away.
“I don’t know if we’re close — this is just one of those political situations. We have very good people here who have been willing to meet with us. Initially we had some frustration — we couldn’t even get some meetings to be able to address the issue,” Zelaznik said.
“It seems nonsensical that you can be doing MMA [in Victoria] but you can’t do it in a fenced ring, you can only do it in a roped ring.
“So, it’s just a matter of getting the right contacts and the right meetings. Those are happening right now, so we are continually optimistic.”
While Australian fans have voted with their feet at UFC events the past two years, turning out in their thousands, it seems unlikely that a UFC title bout will be contested down under unless it could be held at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium. With the roofed stadium’s current seating supported by floor seating around the Octagon, more than 70,000 fans could be accommodated for a UFC event — one that could generate more than $20 million for the Victorian economy.
But that cannot happen unless the current impasse with the government is resolved.
The UFC refuses to budge on the use of a fenced ring for its bout, arguing the safety of fighters is at risk. With wrestling, judo and other disciplines used in mixed martial arts, there is a real danger of fighters falling out of roped rings — one that is avoided by the use of a fence.
There still remains, however, a stigma attached to “cage fighting” — one that the UFC is fighting to overcome.
“It defies logic, frankly. The fans have been great and supportive in Victoria, getting in touch with … their people in parliament and letting them know they care about this issue. We’re continuing to work, we’re not going to give up the fight. We’re optimistic,” Zelaznik said.
For Australian MMA fans on Saturday, there were mixed results on the 10-fight card at the Gold Coast. Welterweight Robert Whittaker won a UFC contract by defeating the UK’s Brad Scott in The Smashes final, and former Cuban judo Olympian-turned-Australian Hector Lombard won his first UFC match-up with a stunning knock-out of Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Rousimar Palhares.
However, Geelong product George Sotiropoulos was unable to overcome Ross Pearson, his fellow coach from The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes. He was knocked out by the Brit in the third round of their lightweight clash — Sotiropoulos’ third successive loss in the UFC.
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