MELBOURNE, Australia -- It took much longer than expected, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its Victoria debut on Saturday, when UFC 193 hits Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. One of the key figures in eliminating the cage ban that kept the sport’s biggest promoter out of the Australia state was UFC Managing Director for Operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand Tom Wright. He was noticeably excited on Thursday as fans poured into Federation Square for open workouts.
Wright spoke to Sherdog.com about the many hurdles the company had to overcome before it was able to finally bring the Octagon to The Garden State.
“It’s huge. I’ve said this many times: Mixed martial arts might be a individual sport, but what we get done in terms of the regulatory efforts to bring our sport to so many different parts of the world, different countries and a city like Melbourne ... it takes a real team effort,” Wright said. “We’ve been at this for many, many years, and you’re finally seeing the results of it. Look at this crowd. Fed Square is an iconic part of Melbourne, and to have this kind of turn out on a Thursday is impressive; and Etihad is going to be amazing on Sunday.”
When the massive Etihad Stadium was named as the venue, a number of people speculated about how many people would pack the building. The stadium holds roughly 55,000 spectators, and when you add on-field seating around the Octagon, that number could rise to close to 70,000. Many people thought an event with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey as the headliner would have a good chance to shatter the previous record.
“The record is 55,724,” Wright said. “I was there at UFC 129 because I opened the Canadian office, and there are a lot of similarities to what we had to do in Ontario to bring our first event to Toronto and what we had to do here in Victoria, where we’re hoping to set some records.”
When pressed about the possibility of surpassing the high-water attendance mark at UFC 129, Wright grinned and repeated his earlier answer.
“We’re looking forward to setting some records,” he said with a smile.
Even if the event falls short of breaking the attendance record, it will be hard to call it a failure. Sources close to the company peg the number of seats sold at over 40,000, and there are high hopes for a solid walkup crowd in a city known for just that. Either way, Wright was happy to reflect on a hard-fought political win that will soon bear fruit. “It’s all about persistence and patience and recognizing full well that it was always a matter of when, not if. We really expected saner heads to prevail, but this stuff takes time when you’re dealing with politics,” Wright said. “It took time in Ontario; it took time here; and it’s taking time in New York. New York is going to be a mater of when, not if, and we’ll get there. People need to understand, when it comes to moving our sport forward, to growing it across a region like [Australia], the heart of this whole decision was making sure that our athletes have a chance to compete in a safe and healthy environment. We wouldn’t compromise that. We knew it would happen sooner or later and now it has, and it is pretty satisfying.”