Can Charlotte host a major UFC event?

Floyd Mayweather Jr., center left, and Conor McGregor pose for photographers during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Las Vegas. The two are scheduled to fight in a boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

There has been a lot of talk recently about Charlotte’s future as a sports market. Whether it’s a Major League Soccer expansion team or the prospect of Major League Baseball, Charlotte continues to be on the minds of many in the sports business. That’s what happens when you live in a city on the rise.

This weekend, what’s being billed as the “biggest event in combat sports”, the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor crossover boxing match, dominates the sports landscape.  Events like this don’t come very often, and they are incredibly lucrative to whichever city is selected to host. It got me thinking.

Why couldn’t Charlotte host a major Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event?

Charlotte has hosted UFC events in the past. In 1994, the Grady Cole Center hosted UFC 3.

They came back the following year, stepping up to the Independence Arena (now Bojangles’ Coliseum) for UFC 5. The last time the UFC came to the Queen City was a UFC Fight Night, again at Bojangles’ in 2010. That drew 7,700 fans.

Needless to say, and thanks to reality competition shows “like The Ultimate Fighter,” the popularity of combat sports and the relevance of the UFC has exploded across the mainstream since that time. Charlotte is also a much different city now then it was just seven years ago.

I lived in Las Vegas for five years before moving to Charlotte, and have seen firsthand what goes into hosting an event like the International Fight Week. It is an undertaking for sure, requiring coordination on many levels. But one that this city, which already does a great job of hosting NASCAR and CIAA weekend events is definitely capable of achieving.

I talked to Fabiana Osorio, owner and instructor at East Coast Martial Arts and Fitness in South End. She pulled the curtain back for me on the local MMA culture, and whether there’s enough interest in Charlotte for a UFC card.

“People love doing MMA, ” she said. “The problem is there aren’t a lot of resources. Charlotte property is expensive and Charlotte fighters don’t produce enough revenue to the gym to keep it sustainable.”

Osorio believes that if all of the MMA gyms in Charlotte came together there would be no problem putting together a major event.

“It would take the fight community, the individual gyms who battle against each other to come together for the better good of the sport,” she said.

We have the necessary Convention Center space needed to host exhibitions, fight demonstrations, and autograph and fighter appearances. On the day of the fights you could have a fan fest at the EpiCentre, like you see with the ACC Championship Football game. That would allow fans easy access to Spectrum Center for the night’s festivities.

And those who couldn’t or don’t want to get tickets and just want to come to town for the experience, which is often the case, could watch at local “official watch party” bars that carry the fight, as Whiskey Warehouse, Ink ‘N Ivy, and Slate among others around town.

I met Jason Carley while watching the recent Manny Pacquiao fight a few weeks ago at Stoke. Carley, who lives in Durham and was in town on business, describes himself as rabid UFC fan.

He said he and some friends would make the trip to Charlotte if the city hosted a major fight.

“As long as the card is big enough, you have a name fighter and not having a bunch of scrubs against each other, I think it would be a great time,” he said. “If I’m gonna come to Charlotte, I would come into town, have dinner and drinks on Friday night, do some stuff on Saturday before checking out the fight and head home Sunday morning.”

With all the Charlotte has to offer, that sounds like a great weekend to me.

Photos: John Locher/AP, Jonathan Lee


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