ANAHEIM, Calif. — When the biggest and, putatively, toughest men in mixed martial arts square off at the Honda Center Saturday, previous gate records will be shattered.
That’s what UFC President Dana White expects going into perhaps the most anticipated heavyweight bout in the promotions’ history.
The UFC makes its ninth visit to Anaheim, further solidifying the Honda Center as its Southern California home with a gate that could surpass $5 million. That’s expected to break the past record of $3.4 million, which was set when the Rolling Stones visited.
While the Honda Center is home to the Anaheim Ducks, hockey games account for just 35% of the business. The rest comes from concerts and other events.
“For box seat holders and season ticket holders, the additional content is really important to make sure we keep them on board,” said Kim Bedier, the senior vice president and general manager of OC Vibe.
The anticipated record comes as the city’s tourism industry continues its ascent out of the doldrums of a pandemic depressed market. While stadiums and theaters industry-wide have experienced a slow return of customers and others who pay but don’t show up, Anaheim has managed to rebound.
“We’re selling this event and selling it out in what is still a pandemic period. I think that just speaks to the strength of the economy in Anaheim,” she said.
Pitting heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou against interim champion Ciryl Gane, UFC 270 is part of the equation.
January is the city’s slow time of the year, and any event that can bring international attention helps drive business to hotels.
Events like UFC 270 provide a relatively small economic impact on the city compared to the considerable convention business. The more than 1 million square foot convention center is one of just 10 on the West Coast. That allows Visit Anaheim, the city’s 501c3 tourism arm, to book conventions that can bring hundreds of millions in economic impact.
While the UFC and other one-night events bring value to the Honda Center, they also help the city’s tourism portfolio remain diversified.
“It’s such a destination event so it will draw people from all around,” said Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim. “It has a huge following and a loyal following.”
The UFC has become perhaps the premier promotion in combat sports, steadily increasing its visibility over the years. Once called “human cockfighting” by the late Sen. John McCain, the sport has slipped into the mainstream, first with events on Fox Sports, and more recently with a blockbuster deal to show fights on ESPN and ESPN+. While some 17,000 fans will attend, millions more worldwide may tune in.
“Any time a new audience is exposed, (tourism in Anaheim) can be even bigger and better,” Burress said.