It's been widely reported by now that UFC 129, which is to be held in April at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, easily sold a whopping 55,000 tickets. After initially being configured for 42,000 and selling out in less than 40 minutes, the UFC opened up additional seating that was also immediately gobbled up.
The $11 million gate is not only a world record for the sport, but also is the largest in history for the 22-year-old stadium, which is the world’s first domed stadium with a retractable roof. UFC’s gate breaks the stadium record of $8 million set by a Buffalo Bills NFL game.
MMA’s previous record of $7.4 million was set on Aug. 28, 2002, for an outdoor show by the Pride promotion at Tokyo National Stadium and was headlined by Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Mirko Cro Cop. That show will still hold the attendance record, which was publicly announced at 91,108. It is routine in Japan to greatly exaggerate attendance numbers in sports and entertainment, and promotions routinely give away many tickets for stadium shows. Pride officials at the time noted that the arena was actually set up for 80,000 max, and did not sell out. The real attendance was approximately 71,000, with just under 50,000 paid.
Boxing still holds the record for live gate receipts with $18,419,200, collected on May 5, 2007 for Oscar de la Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. UFC President Dana White, however, attributes that figure to inflated ticket prices purchased by casinos, not fans:
"We sold 55,000 tickets, those are all to fans. You know boxing doesn’t sell tickets to regular fans," he said. "Boxing guys put tickets up for ridiculous prices and casinos buy the tickets. The reason we doubled the gate [company record] is because there’s 55,000 tickets. Boxing does a $20 million gate, but boxing charges five grand for tickets because casinos buy the gate. We have real fans buying our tickets."
The only boxing event in North America that wasn’t held in a casino location and has done numbers in this ballpark was the March 13, 1999, Madison Square Garden heavyweight title fight with Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis, which also did $11 million.
I was on the UFC 129 media call. White was unsure about coming back to the Rogers Centre or even other cities like Montreal or Canada to do stadium shows there. As White articulated throughout the call, how high is the ceiling on fan interest? 80,000 seats? 100,000? They aren't sure.
But he also noted with the right fight at the right time, they are confident they could match UFC 129's ticket sales. Unless Jake Shields plays the spoiler, Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva has all makings of being the main event lynch pin the UFC needs to set another new record.