Opinion: why UFC 221 could be the last time we see the octagon in Perth for a while

No Robert Whittaker is a massive blow for UFC 221.
No Robert Whittaker is a massive blow for UFC 221.

AFTER a four-year state-wide cage-fighting ban was lifted in June last year – a move the McGowan Government made as part of an election promise – mixed martial arts fans rejoiced knowing we could finally be an option to host a major Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

We were late to the game with the UFC; Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane and our apparently sleepy cousins in Adelaide have all hosted 11 UFC events collectively in the past seven years.

Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium put on a fantastic show playing host for UFC 193: Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm, recording the 7th highest pay-per-view buys in UFC history and likely attracting plenty of international visitors and overseas revenue into their state.

And that is where I have a feeling UFC 221 in Perth is going to drop the ball.

When it was announced Perth had been picked for UFC 221, which is naturally a pay-per-view broadcast, it had local MMA fans shaking with anticipation.

You see, a “numbered” or pay-per-view event usually means there is a title at stake (the main card) – although this has not always been the case as with UFC 196: Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz and UFC183: Anderson Silva vs Nick Diaz – as well as and several noteworthy bouts in the preliminary rounds.

So when then-interim middleweight champion and Aussie Robert Whittaker was announced as the main card for Perth fighting against American Luke Rockhold, it was highly anticipated.

Things only got better the next day when reigning middleweight champion and UFC legend Georges St-Pierre vacated his title to crown Whittaker the undisputed middleweight champion.

So we had a solid title fight on our hands: Whittaker vs former title holder Rockhold.

But things started to fall apart when Whittaker pulled out of the fight due to an injury, and Cuban Yoel Romero taking his place.

So now UFC221 is headlining with an interim middleweight bout alongside an arguably lukewarm line-up of preliminary fighters heavily weighted with lower-ranking Australian MMA fighters (I’m expecting some repercussions over that comment).

Although the main card is still a noteworthy fight between the #1 ranked UFC middleweight and a former UFC middleweight champion, there is a strong likelihood Perth will produce some of the lowest pay-per-view buys for the promotion.

And this is where we will lose out as a city.

You couldn’t blame UFC president Dana White if he chose to go back to the eastern states for his next Australian promotion.

And now with Ticketek offering refunds, why would White ever choose to spend all that money bringing an event to the other side of the world for dismal PPV numbers and ticket sales?

Social media is rife with Perth MMA fans opting to steer clear of what they see as a UFC bout lacking a big name and with overpriced tickets.

We don’t have to look far to see what a marquee name can do for Perth, with Roger Federer’s quokka selfie proving a boon for WA tourism with 527,800 likes and more than 5000 comments.

The Swiss tennis champion was of course in town for the Hopman Cup.

Comparatively, Rockhold’s Wednesdayappearance at Danny Green’s Warwick gym Green Zone did not garner as much interest on social media but I’m betting no one is really that surprised…