The UFC is a global entity in the world of mixed martial arts, and has proven it over the years by expanding into almost every market imaginable. The MMA juggernaut has opened UFC Performance Institutes all around the world to help grow the sport, and has followed up that action by bringing cards to different venues to overwhelmingly positive feedback, in most cases.
However, there are exceptions that sometimes make those involved with the sport wish the UFC would go elsewhere than return to certain markets — and more specifically, certain venues.
Here are three venues the UFC should NOT return to anytime soon.
Jeunesse Arena — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The UFC has run Rio de Janeiro more than any Brazilian location. This, for a promotion that has been frequenting the South American country for more than 25 years. However, fans watching at home on pay-per-view were treated to arguably the worst live crowd in the history of the promotion at UFC 283: Teixeira vs. Hill. Brazilian fans are notorious for their lack of class at fights, chanting the English equivalent to, “you’re gonna die,” (which hits differently than a simple, “USA” chant) at fighters from non-Brazilian nations. They even laid hands on Matt Brown three times on his way to the Octagon at UFC 198.
However, the crowd at UFC 283 was on their worst behavior. Aside from their usual antics, the Brazilian fans showered former UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno with trash after he defeated arch nemesis Deiveson Figueiredo; a victimless crime, considering all Moreno did was do what he is paid to do. However, things took a turn for the worse when Jamahal Hill defeated another Brazilian favorite, Glover Teixeira, to capture the vacant UFC light heavyweight championship. Teixeira, a legend of the sport, retired following the fight, but the fans in Jeunesse Arena could not be bothered to stick around and show a little respect for Teixeira, a man who had one of the most unique journeys and careers of all time.
Brazil is obviously a huge market for the UFC. That doesn’t figure to change anytime soon, so while it’s unrealistic to ask the UFC to never return to Brazil, perhaps the promotion could do with an extended break from the Rio market.
The O2 Arena — London, England
Unlike with the previous entry, this arena’s inclusion on this short list has nothing to do with the fans. In fact, the UFC’s return to the O2 Arena for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic on St. Patrick’s Day weekend back in 2022 stands out as perhaps my favorite UFC Fight Night in the last half-decade. The crowd was electric in a way that felt so refreshing following an extended stint at the UFC Apex (more on that later), and the fights delivered in spades.
In response to the success of the initial return to London, the UFC opted to run the O2 arena again just four months later. They ran it again in March 2022 for UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman III; and again for another Fight Night event in July, Aspinall vs. Tybura. The pattern has been London shows in March and July, so it seems, but there is much more to the United Kingdom than just London, and certainly more than just the O2 Arena. What about Manchester? What about Liverpool (where a few legitimate stars hail from)? What about Glasgow, Scotland? What about the O2 Arena in Dublin? Does the UFC honestly believe the English fans would be disappointed to make the quick trip over to Ireland to watch a fight card?
There’s plenty of reason for the UFC not to run the O2 besides the need for a change in scenery. Live attendance dropped by almost 13 percent between the last two events at the O2, which suggests that section of the UK market could be getting overexposed.
The UFC Apex — Paradise, Nev.
Running two London shows a year should not be a problem. In fact, it’s a necessary move for the UFC to continue growing the sport overseas. However, two trips to the O2 Arena every year only feel like a lot because of the dearth of arena shows the UFC has opted to run since the COVID-19 pandemic “ended.” In spite of UFC President Dana White’s insistence on the UFC getting back to a “normal schedule,” the company has continued to not only run the UFC Apex, but prioritize it. When factoring in Dana White’s Contender Series, the UFC continues to run the Apex at a greater clip than it does live arenas, and that’s a problem.
As to why the UFC has kept the Apex as such a focal point for fight nights, the answer is obvious: money, and time. Since the UFC owns the facility, they do not have a host site to split revenue with, although this is all the more striking considering UFC Apex events are not really for the fans, though it is possible to buy a ticket to one. This is because live gates pale in comparison to what the UFC stands to gain from rights fees with ESPN, so long as they meet their yearly quota of content. This space is much easier to fill with the Apex, as the UFC doesn’t need to waste time promoting the show to a new market.
The prominence of the Apex has not stopped the UFC from expanding, though it has capped other markets, domestically in particular. In spite of Philadelphia standing out as the fourth-largest media market in the United States, “The City of Brotherly Love” has hosted just three UFC events ever. The UFC has not returned to Philly since pre-COVID, and the last pay-per-view to emanate from Philadelphia happened more than 12 years ago.
This is just one example of a domestic market getting the shaft in the Apex era. I’m sure you can think of countless more that have been impacted by the UFC’s addiction to running in-house shows.