Zuffa continues it’s Canadian expansion and it’s hard not to notice. While slow sales forced the UFC to pull out of a planned show in Salt Lake City, fight-hungry Canadadians can’t get enough. Monday’s WEC 49 press conference featured more questions about Canada than the fighters. Earlier this month, Zuffa named Tom Wright the director of Canadian operations and is holding back-to-back events in the Great White North. UFC 115 was in Vancouver, B.C. on June 12. WEC 49 will be held in Edmonton, Alberta on June 20th.
The goal is UFC expansion into Canada’s largest metropolitan area, Toronto, Ontario. For now, Wright answered the questions simply: Yes, Zuffa wants to expand its operations in Canada. Yes, they want to be sanctioned in all 12 provinces. Yes, these events are showcases towards that end. No, he does not have a time frame.
The fighters themselves received comparatively little attention. Sunday’s main event, which will air live on Versus, features former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner against Kamal Shalorus. In the co-main event, top Canadian featherweights Mark Hominick and Yves Jabouin will finally square off after eight years of anticipation.
Here are the condensed thoughts of the fighters from Monday’s conference:
The former WEC champion is coming off a loss to Ben Henderson in January. Varner (16-3) was arguably winning the fight before getting caught in a choke. Before the loss, Varner had won five straight and defended his belt twice.
On Shalorus – “Kamal is the toughest guy you’ve never heard of. Kamal is the kind of fighter that can expose you on one mistake. I feel this is my toughest fight because our styles are so similar and I’ve never fought a wrestler as tough as Kamal. He is the more decorated wrestler, I am the more decorated striker. No one knows who he is yet, but that’s until we step into the ring June 20.
On pressure – “There is pressure in every fight. It’s not just winning or losing. There’s the financial aspect, but it’s also pride.”
On the Henderson loss – “The fight with Ben taught me a lesson. I cut out every distraction in my life. I had a lot of personal things going on in my life. I don’t want to use them as excuses, but I can give you one example: my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer. That was rough to deal with. It was like when it rains, it pours. In my training I wasn’t able to focus as much. When I went into that Ben fight, I expected losing before we even fought. In that fight I saw myself losing one way and that was with that guillotine and it’s almost like I expected it. I’m re-focused.”
On Henderson – “Ben is a good guy, but some of the stuff he says… I think he thinks he’s better than he is. I felt that guy hit the lottery when he hit me with that guillotine to be honest. (Fighters) know you don’t shoot in on that guy. Protect your neck and you’ll be fine.”
The Iranian-born “Prince of Persia” represented Great Britain as a wrestler in the 2004 Summer Olympics. The 32-year-old has been ranked among the top freestyle wrestlers in the world and has finished five of his seven opponents. Shalorus (6-0-1) is 2-0 in the WEC and comes off a unanimous decision over Dave Jansen at WEC 46.
On Varner – “Jamie Varner is a great fighter and it’s an honor for me to fight Jamie. Jamie is a very dangerous fighter, a good striker and a good wrestler. This will be the biggest challenge for me, but I am super, super ready for this fight. I have so many surprises in this fight.”
On being in the main event – “A fight is a fight. I’m ready for any fight. Mentally, I’m ready 100 percent.”
On being a contender – “After this fight I am looking for a title shot and I’m ready for that.”
Hominick (17-8) has bounced around several promotions, including the UFC. His two fights inside The Octagon: wins over Jorge Gurgel and Yves Edwards. “The Machine” is 1-2 in the WEC and coming off a win over Brian Carraway at WEC 46, ironically the same event he was originally scheduled to fight Jabouin. The two have been running in the same crircles for years, but had never been paired together.
On fighting in Edmonton – “I’m a super proud Canadian. It’s been four years since I fought in Canada. Coming to Edmonton… its an honor to be showcased on the card.”
On fighting Jabouin – “I was thrilled. This is a fight we both wanted. I’ve been chomping at the bit for this fight. For me things in life happen for a reason and that’s why this fight is happening at this point of my career and at this stage. You will get two strikers that will standing in the center of the ring and go at it. We’re competitive rivals. We fought in rival promotions. Promoters tried to make the fight for a long time.”
On waiting to fight Hominick – “This fight was supposed to be booked for about eight years. Hominick used top be the superstar in my hometown of Montreal. He is a guy I’ve been looking up to for years. I’ve been watching him forever. We have similar styles. It’s promising to be a very good fight. It’s not every day you get to fight somebody who is similar to your style. The fans love to see people stand and bang.”
On fighting in Canada – “It’s very interesting to actually be fighting in front of the Canadian fans. I’m happy this fight will happen on our home turf.”
On the rivalry – “I’m not the type of person that has any bad blood for anybody. It’s a sport for me. It’s not anything personal.”
On the WEC – “From my last fight with Rafael Assuncao, everybody saw I belong in there with the WEC. All I have to do right now is prove I belong with top fighters and keep climbing. Fighting Mark Hominick will allow me to prove what I’m able to do.”