Records tumbled as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) burst onto the Australian scene with the promise of future events, while a Greek Australian fighter announced his arrival as a legitimate contender in the UFC’s lightweight division.
But Melbourne risks missing out on the action and economic windfalls unlike Sydney, which had the Acer Arena host the UFC 110 last weekend, February 21.
The thousands of Australians watching from the arena or free to air were witness to the usual high octane action inside the octagon from some of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world.
And as the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) combat sport continues to take the world by storm, a Greek-Australian will be in the thick of the action.
Last week’s Fight of the Night saw George Sotiropoulos triumph in a star-making performance against the highly-fancied Joe Stevenson.
The native Victorian outperformed Stevenson on the feet with precise combinations while thoroughly outclassing the American on the ground with smooth transitions and slick submission attempts.
The appreciative and educated MMA crowd roared with approval and support for the Aussie underdog.
With a smattering of Greek and Australian flags and chants of “Come on Georgie, come on, come on” echoing throughout the arena there was no doubt as to the identity of the crowd favourite.
Sotiropoulos was not to be denied a famous victory on home soil. His unanimous decision victory was comprehensive and complete, and the crowd reaction once the winner was announced was hair-raising.
Currently undefeated in five UFC fights, Sotiropoulos is now a hot commodity and a once unattainable title fight with champion BJ Penn now seems a distinct possibility.
While the Sotiropoulos result pleased local fans, more importantly for the UFC, its Australian debut was a financial and promotional success.
UFC 110 drew 17,831 fans to the Acer Arena in Sydney, which was a record attendance for a UFC event outside of North America.
In addition to breaking the UFC’s record, the event set an Acer Arena record for the highest-grossing sporting event in the arena’s history with a $2.5 million live gate, as well as selling the most merchandise ever for any event, beating an Iron Maiden concert held at the venue.
The event also attracted people from all around the country, undoubtedly stimulating the local economy.
This in addition to the world wide exposure the event, and the host city received as it was beamed live to millions throughout the world.
After the successful event, UFC president Dana White confirmed to the media at the UFC 110 post fight press conference in Sydney that the UFC will make an annual return.
“If you’ve ever known how we do it, when we come in and we’re as successful as we were in this market, we make it an annual event, so we’ll be coming back here obviously.”
But if all goes to plan, Sydney will not be the only city to benefit. “The next place we’d love to go would be Melbourne,” said White.
It is this success and willingness by the UFC that has seen calls for Melbourne to legalise the sport.
Technically, mixed martial arts is legal in Victoria, but fighting in a cage is not, which makes hosting a UFC event impossible.
“It’s not legalised there, but after such a successful event here, hopefully we can turn that around real quick,” said White.
“It’s the same thing we go through everywhere we go. It’s an education process. It’s about changing laws and that never happens too fast, so we’re on it.”
If Victorian Premier John Brumby wishes to continue making statements such as, “We live in the undisputed major events capital of the world,” he can not let the opportunities presented by future UFC events pass this fine city by.
Melbourne would be foolish to ignore the popularity and positive economic benefit that this event would bring.
Given the importance the Victorian government places on economic impact, there is no doubt that a keen eye was fixed firmly on the Sydney event. The buzz created by the UFC would have filled the criteria of what they look for when luring major events.
However critics of MMA and the UFC believe any economic benefits should be outweighed by the supposed ‘barbaric’ nature of the sport.
Speaking at the UFC 110 post fight press conference, George Sotiropoulos defended the sport and believes that the laws will eventually be changed.
“It’s just the trend that’s going to happen. This is a professional sport. People just need to be educated. I think they look back at UFC 1 and they think that’s what the UFC is, or mixed martial arts, but this is a professional sport with rules and it’s regulated. People just need to be educated.”
If Melbourne is serious about its label as the sporting capital of the world it would seem a logical partnership to play host to the so-called ‘fastest growing sport in the world’.
With a local boy now on the rise, what better way for the UFC to return than to welcome back George Sotiropoulos for a fight in his home state of Victoria.
In the post-fight press conference, Dana White indicated a big carrot could be dangled in front of Sotiropoulos, saying, “He was amazing. He didn’t just beat Joe Stevenson, he dominated Joe Stevenson. …If he continues to improve like that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fighting for the title in the next year.”
Could this title shot happen in Melbourne? Only time will tell.