When the UFC returns from its one-week hiatus next week, the Octagon will touch down in Saskatoon for UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Oliveira. It marks the first time the UFC holds an event in the province of Saskatchewan and the 19th time there has been an event north of the border.
With a stacked event set to take place at the SaskTel Centre on August 23, we’re taking a look back at some of the top scraps to take place in Canada over the years.
UFC 83: Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre II – April 19, 2008 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
The company’s first event in Canada produced the biggest attendance figure in UFC history (at the time) and featured the “Champion vs. Champion” rematch between Matt Serra and the country’s favorite fighting son, Georges St-Pierre.
Serra’s win over St-Pierre a year earlier was shocking, as the veteran turned his win on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter into a victory over a fighter who was expected to reign supreme in the welterweight division after winning the title from long-time champion Matt Hughes. The build-up to this bout was heated and tensions ran high as they hit the cage.
And then St-Pierre wrecked shop, finishing Serra with knees to the body in the second round to reclaim the title he would retain throughout the rest of his career.
UFC 115: Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald – June 12, 2010 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
What a fight.
Condit was two fights into his UFC career, having split a pair of split decisions against Martin Kampmann (which he lost) and Jake Ellenberger (which he won), while MacDonald was just six months removed from his Octagon debut and fighting in his home province of British Columbia. They’re both stars now, but they weren’t really there at this point and then this fight happened and everything changed.
MacDonald showed why everyone had marked him for future greatness by taking the fight to the former WEC champion right out of the gate, prompting the capacity crowd in Vancouver to offer up a thunderous ovation prior to the start of round three. That’s when Condit showed his tenacity and why he’s called “The Natural Born Killer,” coming out in the final five minutes and stealing the victory from the young Canadian.
It’s been just over five years since this fight took place and it still stands up as a classic.
UFC 124: Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck II – December 11, 2010 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Built up by the champion and challenger serving as coaches on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, this grudge match wasn’t close once the cage door closed, but this was a master class in using the jab in MMA and a fight that changed the trajectory of Koscheck’s career.
In a sport where people are often looking for blistering knockouts and highlight reel finishes, St-Pierre stepped into the Octagon and broke Koscheck’s orbital bone with a non-stop string of jabs that were so perfect that every hopeful should have to watch this fight on repeat to see just how effective a great jab can be in the cage.
This was St-Pierre’s last truly devastating performance (he beat Nick Diaz, but he didn’t beat him up) and though he won his next two fights following this surgical beating, Koscheck was never really the same guy.
UFC 129: Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture – April 30, 2011 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Just a couple months after Anderson Silva dropped Vitor Belfort with a front kick to the face, Machida one-upped his countryman by sending Couture into retirement by going full Karate Kid on “The Natural” in front of a massive crowd.
More than 55,000 people packed the Rogers Centre in Toronto for the promotion’s debut event in Ontario, and midway through the main card, Machida planted Couture with a legit Mr. Miyagi crane kick that sent two of his teeth flying out of his mouth.
There’s no real way to describe the sound of that many people collectively gasping in surprise and then erupting because what they just saw was awesome. It came out of nowhere and caught everyone off guard, especially Couture, and remains one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history.
UFC 129: Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick – April 30, 2011 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Two things really stand out about this fight.
First, Hominick coming out to the Octagon as “Coming Home” echoed throughout the Rogers Centre was amazing, as UFC 129 marked the first time in his career that the London, Ontario-based fighter was able to compete in his home province. That particular Diddy track quickly became overused and overplayed, but it hit an emotional chord for a lot of people on this night as “The Machine” was the local guy fighting for championship gold.
Second, the way the crowd tried to will Hominick to victory in the final round despite the fact that he was down 4-0 on the scorecards and sporting a gigantic hematoma on his forehead was incredible. This was a guy who was about to have his first child, fighting on home soil for the first time in his lengthy career and everyone in attendance got behind him as Hominick tried to rally in the final five minutes.
He’d come up short, but it was a valiant effort in defeat that still stands out as one of the best moments to transpire during one of the 18 trips the Octagon has made to Canada over the years.
UFC 140: Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira II – December 2011 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Three years earlier, Mir became the first person to stop Nogueira, finishing the Brazilian legend with strikes two minutes into the second round of their interim heavyweight title fight at UFC 92. This time out, he did something even nastier.
Midway through the opening round, Nogueira put Mir on roller skates, cracking him with a right hand and following him to the ground, trying to finish. But instead of continuing to drop hammerfists and punches on a prone Mir, Nogueira tried to wrap up a guillotine and that’s when things went south for “Big Nog.” Mir survived, got his wits about him and attacked with a kimura, rolling through with the Brazilian as he tried to defend, ultimately breaking Nogueira’s arm.
It was equal parts beautiful and brutal.
UFC 152: Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort – September 22, 2012 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Jones became a fixture in Toronto in the early days of his light heavyweight title reign, fighting in the Ontario capital three times in five fights and his sophomore appearance there stands out as one of the best north of the border tussles to date.
Early in the fight, Belfort had Jones in serious trouble, locking up an armbar from bottom that was pretty deep. The champion kept his cool, refused to tap and found a way out, but it was one of the few times “Bones” lost a frame to that point of his career.
Jones dominated the rest of the way and ultimately finished Belfort with a submission of his own, locking up an americana early in the fourth to successfully defend his title and push his record to 17-1.
UFC 161: James Krause vs. Sam Stout – June 15, 2013 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
There aren’t many people that look back on the UFC’s first appearance in Winnipeg with fond memories, but Krause certainly does, as the lightweight took home not one, but two bonus checks for his entertaining third-round submission win over Stout at the MTS Centre.
Krause had auditioned for Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, but lost in his attempt to get into the house. After getting a couple wins on the regional circuit, he got a short notice call to face the Canadian veteran and they went toe-to-toe in an entertaining back-and-forth that earned them Fight of the Night honors.
What makes it really stand up well over time is that Krause never left off the gas. Even though he could have coasted home in the third, he kept attacking, kept pushing the tempo and it ultimately resulted in the Missouri-based fighter snatching up a guillotine in the final seconds of the round to get the victory.
This was a great fight that gets forgotten because the rest of the card fell flat.
UFC 165: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson – September 21, 2013 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
This isn’t just one of the best fights to take place in Canada; it’s one of the best fights to ever take place in the Octagon, period.
Heading into the contest, many expected Jones to dominate the Swedish challenger, but right out of the gate, Gustafsson showed he was going to be a handful, taking the fight to the champion and putting him on the canvas for the first time in his career. Through three rounds, most observers had “The Mauler” ahead and it wasn’t until late in the fourth that Jones was able to turn the tables and shift the momentum back in his favor. Down the stretch, “Bones” was the more active of the two, claiming the fifth round and the fight.
An instant classic and a must-watch for anyone that wants to see high-level mixed martial arts at its finest.
UFC Fight Night 54: Chris Kelades vs. Paddy Holohan – October 4, 2014 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
How’s this for a crazy UFC debut story: Kelades got the call to replace Louis Gaudinot just a handful of days before the event, which just so happened to be taking place in his home province of Nova Scotia.
After pondering retirement and “getting a real job” because fights were hard to come by for Canadian flyweights on the regional circuit, “The Greek Assassin” not only got the call to the Octagon, but he showed up, survived a dicey first round where Holohan threatened with several submission attempts, and ended up winning the fight by unanimous decision.
Oh yeah – he also took home a $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night as well. Debuts don’t come much better than that.