The largest city in Canada lived up to its billing as a fanatic sports town with a rousing crowd of 16,800 packing the Air Canada Centre for a memorable night of fights.
Coming off the heels of the cancellation of UFC 151 earlier this month, the organization put on an outstanding card highlighted by two title fights across opposite ends of the weight spectrum.
Before championship belts were contested, the energetic crowd was already reeling from three first-round finishes on the Facebook prelims followed by a pair of drag-’em-out brawls that saw Marcus Brimage and T.J. Grant overcome underdog status to emerge triumphant.
The enthralling action continued as the returning Vinny Magalhaes put on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu showcase against Igor Pokrajac and Cub Swanson collapsed Charles Oliveira to kick off the pay-per-view card in style. Then Michael Bisping waged a literal war with Brian Stann.
But the success of UFC 152 ultimately boiled down to the co-featured title twin bill.
The UFC crowned its first-ever flyweight champion after a frantic five-round fray. Exceptional speed was on display as Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez went toe-to-toe, treating true fight fans to a plethora of transitions and reversals. The bloodthirsty crowd was restless at times as anticipation was mounting for the main event, but Johnson and Benavidez put on an exemplary display of world-class mixed martial arts with Johnson claiming the inaugural 125-pound championship.
The flyweight clash was a true testament to how far the sport has come. Many moons ago, both Johnson and Benavidez would have settled on competing at 155 pounds, a full 30 pounds higher than their natural fighting weight. Due to the rapid international growth of the sport and the emergence of so many talented prospects spanning multiple weight classes, they can now attain their full potential.
After all, boxing’s biggest stars in Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have excelled at 140 pounds, while relevant heavyweights have fallen off the map. In the UFC, however, every weight category keeps getting better. The depth and talent pool has never been this strong.
And then there’s Jon Jones.
After turning down a fight with Chael Sonnen and consequently causing the demise of UFC 151, the light heavyweight champion entered the arena to a chorus of boos for his main event tilt with former kingpin Vitor Belfort. Meanwhile, Belfort received a thunderous ovation for a classic battle of old school against new school.
Belfort shocked many in attendance as he nearly caught the seemingly indomitable champion with a slick armbar off his back in the opening round, but Jones relied on his poise and power to turn the tide.
After four brutal rounds of devastating ground-and-pound, Jones added another victim to his growing resume as he used a flurry of violent elbows to set up a fight-ending americana, forcing the bloodied and battered Brazilian warrior to tap out in agony.
It wasn’t pretty, but Jones continued to cement his legacy as one of the premier prodigies in the sport.
Despite turning many fans into haters, Jones remains one of the biggest stars in the UFC and he continues to establish himself as one of the pound-for-pound elite.
Lately, Jones hasn’t been in UFC president Dana White’s good books, but his victorious outing should have positive consequences for the business side of operations.
Still only 25 years of age, Jones is destined to be one of the most dominant fighters of this era. Although criticism of Belfort as a legitimate challenger to his throne was warranted, Jones is continuing to gain experience and exposure on his path to excellence.
Jones is a huge star for the UFC, and as his stock continues to rise, his drawing power will also increase substantially. There’s no end in sight to Jones’ reign of supremacy, but he’ll garner major profits for the UFC as he continues to tear through opponents.
During a rough year that saw numerous suspensions, injuries and the first-ever cancelled event in promotional history, UFC 152 will stand out as one of the organization’s bright spots in 2012.
Die-hard sports fans run rampant in Toronto, but the city is struggling to offer any contenders in major sports leagues. The NHL’s Maple Leafs continue to disappoint. The NBA’s Raptors are stuck in a constant stage of rebuilding. And the Blue Jays, the city’s only hope this year, failed in their bid to make the MLB playoffs.
But when the UFC comes to town, all the big names take center stage. For a few hours, the dedicated fans can forget about their athletic struggles, taking in the world’s fastest growing sport up close and in person.
Furthermore, UFC 152 was a good night for many Canadian fighters, including Grant and Ontario natives Mitch Gagnon and Sean Pierson.
In a sport as unpredictable as mixed martial arts, you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes, the fights deliver. Other times, they are a major letdown.
One thing is for sure. On Saturday night, UFC 152 treated the euphoric Toronto crowd to professional sports at the highest level.
When we look back at 2012 and all the obstacles and setbacks endured by the UFC, Saturday’s show at the Air Canada Centre will stand out as a night worth remembering.