After being starved of any first-hand UFC action as the Covid pandemic caused chaos worldwide, many were left to wonder how long it would be until fight fans would get to witness an event in Australia again.
It turned out to be over 1,200 days until the promotion graced Aussie shores, but the lengthy wait proved to be more than worth it following its triumphant return at the RAC Arena in Perth last weekend.
How much tickets for UFC 284 were coveted showcases ‘how far mixed martial arts has come’ in Australia
All week there was an unmistakable buzz around the city as promotion kicked into overdrive with fluorescent yellow billboards acting as a beacon in Yagan Square with open workouts, press conferences and weigh-ins drawing thousands in attendance every time.
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Everyone was eagerly wanting to lay eyes on Alexander Volkanovski as he sought to become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold belts in two divisions simultaneously.
Mix in the meteoric rise of local boy done good, Jack Della Maddalena, and UFC 284 was always going to be a winner.
And that’s without even factoring in the polarising figure of Islam Makhachev, who played the villain to perfection all week as he dismissed the prospects of Volkanovski beating him while throwing jabs at his height and wrestling ability.
Wherever he went, he was on the receiving end of boos and jeers as he stood in the way of the Aussie featherweight champion’s dream of becoming ‘The Greatest’.
“The place was deafening,” Senior Vice President for International Operations and Content, Dave Shaw, said in the aftermath of Makhachev’s successful title defence on Sunday afternoon.
Just watched the fight, I definitely think I won 2,3 and 5. Surprised I didn’t get my hand raised! Let’s do the rematch, anywhere, anytime! 👊
— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) February 12, 2023
“I feel like I’ve been at a Metallica concert just sitting in front of the speakers…I feel like I’ve just gone five rounds.”
Before even the last remaining stragglers, adorned in ‘Alexander The Great’ T-shirts, ventured out into the blazing sunshine and into the heart of the CBD, Shaw was proclaiming the event a major success.
“A few of us in the back just went through a few of the really memorable events over the last 12 months – London last March and Paris, a few of the Vegas events – and this is right up there,” he said.
The numbers were undeniable. The gate broke the Australian arena record with a gross total of $5,911, 598 to become the highest-grossing event for any arena in Australia to date.
A total of 14,124 people packed into the sold-out arena with the 7am start time doing nothing to deter punters from getting an early fix of violence in the cage.
“It was 50% full before the first fight happened and then 90% full during the prelims- early prelims,” Shaw revealed.
“It was an incredible week after having not been here for over three years.”
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The event’s popularity led to Shaw highlighting how a major boost had been provided to Western Australia’s economy off the back of the showpiece bout.
“We have a lot of discussions around the impact of the event from an economic perspective like how many people are coming to Perth,” he said.
“Not only did we have an out of state ticket purchase percentage of about 68%, but we also had thousands of people coming over to Perth even without a ticket.
“How much this event was coveted across the country is a testament to how far mixed martial arts has come all across the country. It is certainly something that gives us great confidence in coming back, hopefully as soon as possible.”
Could Australia be ready to host another UFC event inside one of its stadiums in the near future?
There were causalities along the way with Robert Whittaker left stranded without a fight following Paulo Costa’s bust up with the top brass, while flyweight contender Kai Kara-France also had to pull out late through injury.
Yet none of this diminished the anticipation in any way, as ‘The Reaper’ soaked in the adoration of the Perth public during Q & A appearances and Tai Tuivasa brought an unrivalled energy and appetite to sink shoey after shoey all weekend.
During the build-up, Maddalena’s opponent Randy Brown insisted that once the cage door slammed shut and it was just the two of them standing across from each other, the parochial crowd wouldn’t be able to help him.
In the end, he was right. There wasn’t anything the crowd could do to help Maddalena. But, it turned out, he didn’t need them to.
With ruthless efficiency that is becoming his trademark, the local made short work of the veteran as he stalked him around the perimeter of the cage before a sharp jab dropped him and set up a rear naked choke to send the crowd into raptures.
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The victory was Maddalena’s fourth successive first-round finish since joining the UFC last year. Yet while climbing the welterweight ranks at a rate of knots, he has only just ticked over into double digits for total cage minutes across all of his bouts so far.
“It’s a luxury that we’ve got so many competitive and high-quality Australian athletes,” Shaw said.
“Could we bring global stars? 100%. But when you’ve got great Australian or New Zealanders that also makes sense. It’s an embarrassment of riches.”
Despite Volkanovski’s loss, his stocks rose even higher which led to the question of whether he would be better served as an asset for the UFC based entirely inside his home country from now on.
“I think we can take him anywhere,” Shaw said. “But if the question is does it make the most sense to always have him here, then yes.”
Volk is coming back and will be better than ever!
Nothing but class from @AlexVolkanovski after our #UFC284 main event 👏 pic.twitter.com/NxYozXJ333
— UFC (@ufc) February 12, 2023
Shaw claimed the pay-per-view buys in Australia were going to eclipse those achieved when Conor McGregor was waltzing around in his mink coat while lapping up the adoration as the face of the organisation.
“The impact of Volk and numerous others like Jack Della…it makes a lot of sense to come back,” he said.
Rumours quickly circulated around a possible unification bout between Volkanovski and interim champion Yair Rodriguez in Adelaide later this year. Yet while Shaw refused to be drawn on the specifics, he was adamant that another big card wasn’t far away in Australia.
Pressed on whether the price points of the tickets were too steep at the RAC Arena, Shaw argued the limited seats meant the cost inevitably increased.
“We scale the venue based on data points and education on what the market can bear at the moment. Did it make sense to bring this fight to Optus Stadium? Possibly,” he said.
“There was probably five or 10 thousand people who came to the city who didn’t have tickets, so could we have scaled up to 30 or 40,000? I think the demand would have been there and obviously that would have changed the average ticket price.”
This crowd is on fire !!!!! #UFC284
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) February 12, 2023
In the bowels of the media room, Optus Stadium – with its 60,000-seat capacity – was eagerly offered up by a journalist as a potential host for another landmark UFC event, despite the company rarely putting on fights outdoors.
“You’ve got good precedence in this country, with a couple in Melbourne,” Shaw said.
“We’re not going to rule it out. We don’t do a lot of them, maybe five or six in the past, but if there’s one country that can handle it, it’s probably this country.”