WINNIPEG – One of the few confirmed fights for Winnipeg’s Ultimate Fighting Championship debut is shaping up to be a treat for longtime mixed martial arts fans.
The already planned rematch between Mauricio (Shogun) Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will take place at UFC 161 at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre on June 15.
The fight seems tailored for nostalgic UFC fans as a rematch of a 2005 Pride Fighting Championship card that ended in a unanimous decision for Rua. Japan-based Pride has since been swallowed by the UFC empire.
“They had an epic three-round battle in Japan,” Tom Wright, director of operations for UFC Canada, said at a press conference Tuesday. He added that there would be five events on the main card, including a championship.
Rua, a former light-heavyweight champion, has won just three of his last seven fights, losing a unanimous decision to Alexander Gustafsson in December.
Nogueira, known as “Lil’ Nog,” has done better with recent wins over Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans and he has been seeking the rematch with Rua since last summer.
Heavyweights Soa Palelei and Stipe Miocic will also meet on the Winnipeg card.
Winnipeg will join a short list of Canadian cities that have hosted a UFC event, and will become one of only three that the mixed martial arts juggernaut will visit this year.
Wright said a fourth Canadian date discussed earlier was tied to the “Ultimate Fighter” reality show and is likely moving to 2014, but he continued to promise a Canadian version of “Ultimate Fighter.”
There has already been a Brazilian version. Brazil is the third most popular market worldwide for the UFC but Canada is No. 2, behind only the United States.
Wright, a former commissioner of the Canadian Football League, said Tuesday that Winnipeg had been discussed for some time as a possible venue and was “the next logical step” in developing the UFC in Canada.
Wright said the organization knows the importance of having Canadian fighters on the card, such as Winnipeg’s Roland Delorme, who was featured on “Ultimate Fighter.”
“We’ve got eight Canadians on the card in Montreal,” he said.
The other UFC cards already planned this year for Canada are in Montreal this month and Toronto in September.
Injuries marred the first and only UFC appearance in Calgary so far last year. Nine big names were dropped because of injuries and disgruntled fans booed what ended up as the main event.
Wright says UFC would like to return to Vancouver and Calgary but Ottawa, Halifax, Regina and Quebec City could see events as well.
“I can’t say exactly when it will happen but we have made a commitment to the city of Calgary that we’ll return and we’ve made a commitment to the city of Vancouver that we’ll return and we’ll live up to those commitments,” he said.
The Winnipeg event will also be shown live on pay-per-view.
Wright says the largest ever event was UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in 2011, which drew more than 55,000 in person and generated more than $35 million in economic benefit. It brought in more than $11 million in gate revenue alone.
An event like that planned for Winnipeg can generate $10 million in economic benefit, he said, adding that it has many similarities to hosting a Grey Cup.