Count Dana White among those happy to see the UFC return to Canada, via UFC 289 in Vancouver.
“I love Canada. I love that place. I love doing events there,” White said in an interview Thursday. “I can’t wait to get back to Toronto. As a city, it’s one of my favourite in the world. I love Toronto.
“I love the people in Canada. Believe it or not, I really like the media there in Canada too,” he added with a trademark F-bomb. “There ain’t much about Canada I don’t like. If I had to pick something that I don’t like about Canada, it’d probably be the snow and that’s about it.”
Canada was one of the UFC’s early breakthrough markets, thanks in large part to the success of welterweight star Gerges St-Pierre.
The June 10 show at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena is the UFC’s first in Canada since Sept. 14, 2019, at the same Vancouver venue. Justin (The Highlight) Gaethje stopped fellow American Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone in the first round in the main event before an announced crowd of 15,114.
The UFC has held 150 events since then in the U.S. and 11 other countries.
Asked about the delay in returning to Canada, White pointed to the number of places clamouring for shows and Canada’s strict regulations during the pandemic.
“Other than Australia, you guys are probably the nuttiest out of the entire world other than them, so it was a little rough to do business up there. But now it looks like everything’s getting back to normal,” he said.
The previously announced UFC 289 main event sees Brazil’s Amanda Nunes defend her bantamweight title against American Julianna (The Venezuelan Vixen) Pena. The two have met twice already with Pena dethroning Nunes at UFC 269 in December 2021 and losing the 135-pound title back to Nunes at UFC 277 last July.
“Amanda Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time,” said White. “Julianna Pena is a little savage. She’s hungry. She always goes after what she wants and she wants this fight bad.
“Plus as far the trilogy goes, this one needs a payoff. You need to see who’s going to win the best-of-three.”
The UFC added a heavy dose of Canadian talent to the card on Thursday.
Canadians competing are flyweight Jasmine Jasudavicius, bantamweight Aiemann Zahabi, featherweights Kyle (The Monster) Nelson and (Mean) Hakeem Dawodu, welterweight (Proper) Mike Malott and middleweight Marc-Andre (Power Bar) Barriault.
Strawweight Diana (Warrior Princess) Belbita, who was born in Romania but trains out of Stoney Creek, Ont., is also on the card.
“There’s a ton of talent coming out of Canada,” said White, speaking on the eve of tickets going on sale for the Vancouver show Friday. “And obviously the no-brainers right now — Mike Malott. He’s probably the hottest prospect coming out of Canada now. And I like Zahabi too.”
The UFC has more than 600 fighters on its active roster. Fifteen of those are Canadian plus Belbita and Mexican-born Loopy Godinez who are both based in Canada.
Other UFC 289 fights include France’s Nassourdine Imavov, ranked 12th among middleweights contenders, against No. 15 Chris (The Action Man) Curtis of the U.S., and Dan (50K) Ige, ranked 13th among featherweight contenders against fellow American Nate (The Train) Landwehr.
Khalil (The War Horse) Rountree Jr., ranked 13th among light-heavyweight contenders, faces fellow American Chris Daukas, the 13th-ranked heavyweight making his debut at 205 pounds. And American Matt (Danger) Schnell, ranked No. 8 among flyweight contenders, meets No. 10 David (The Undertaker) Dvorak of Czechia.
Nelson (13-5-1) takes on American Blake (El Animal) Bilder (8-0-1). Barriault (15-6-O with one no-contest) faces American Eryk (Ya Boi) Anders (15-7-0 with one no-contest).
Nelson calls Huntsville, Ont., home but spends Monday to Thursday at his training base in Stoney Creek. Barriault is a native of Gatineau, Que., who now makes his home in South Florida where he trains.
Calgary’s Dawodu (13-3-1) meets Brazil’s Lucas Almeida (14-1-0).
Jasudavicius, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., who trains in Niagara Falls, Ont., fights American Miranda (Fear The) Maverick (13-4-0). Montreal’s Zahabi (9-2-0) takes on China’s Qileng (Mongolian Murderer) Aori (24-9-0).
Belbita (14-7-0) meets Brazil’s Maria (Spider-Girl) Oliveira (13-6-0) while Malott (9-1-1), from Burlington, Ont., tackles American Adam Fugitt (9-3-0).
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press