Make no mistake, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Bangor (8 p.m. start, 10 p.m. live on Fox Sports1) is happening because UFC President Dana White was determined to bring the world’s marquee mixed martial arts show to the Cross Insurance Center.
“I spend a lot of my time in Maine,” White said. “I have a home in Maine and it’s been a goal of mine to bring a huge UFC fight to the state. Bangor is close to my home and when the Cross Center was being built, that was the spot to go for. If Bangor does well hopefully we can look to put one in Portland.”
White graduated from Hermon High in 1987 when he was living with his grandparents in Levant. White now owns a summer home in Levant.
“I wouldn’t say this was a financial home run for us,” White said. “I was on a mission to get this deal done. I was willing to do anything to get this done.”
As of Monday morning, tickets were still available for the 6,000-plus seat show and cost $54-$154.
Bangor’s 10-fight card is headlined by No. 8-ranked light heavyweight Ryan Bader vs. No. 10 Ovince St. Preux in a five-round bout. Lincolnville native and four-time Maine high school wrestling champ Tim Boetsch’s 185-pound fight against Brad Tavares is part of the Fox Sports1 main card.
White needed other parties to get on board – most importantly Cross Insurance Center General Manager Joe Imbriaco – and the assurance that Bangor’s hotel industry could accommodate his staff and production crew, which totals between 300 and 400 people for a show.
“You have to make sure there’s enough infrastructure to handle the event,” White said. “As soon I knew there was, that was it.”
Imbriaco said bringing the UFC to the Cross Insurance Center is an important step for the facility.
“Whenever you open a new facility you’re looking to distinguish yourself,” said Imbriaco, who took over as GM in April. “Having the UFC – an international brand – come to town raises our profile for other events, whether they’re a sporting event or any other type of event.”
The UFC will also be a test of how well the Cross Insurance Center works as a live television venue. White also felt the Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway, located across the street from the arena, was a key part of the formula for success.
Imbriaco said that in a way Bangor serves as a “microcosm” of the triangle of business enterprises that mark UFC stops in Las Vegas, where the organization is headquartered.
“We are using a little bit of the Las Vegas model,” Imbriaco said. “We do have a casino right across the street from an events center.”
The event will also give the Bangor area economy a positive boost.
Last August the UFC’s first Fight Night live on Fox Sports1 was held at the TD Garden in Boston, drawing 12,539 fans with a gate receipt of $1.53 million. That night Dave Sholler of the UFC said the economic impact for Boston was “around $10 million.”
In 2011 the UFC commissioned an economic study for its largest-ever show that put 55,000 fans into the Rogers Center in Toronto. That commission reported the UFC brought $40 million to the Toronto economy.
Obviously the impact will be less in Bangor but should still be significant.
“We have a huge economic impact when we roll into town,” White said.
Whether the UFC views its Bangor stop as a success will probably be determined after Saturday’s show when it can answer key questions like: Did the event sell out? Did the facility support high-level television and the in-house production that is an integral part of the UFC experience? Was the crowd vocal and supportive?
Imbriaco said the event is “already a success” for the Cross Insurance Center “from an exposure standpoint.”
“I’m hoping the UFC walks away feeling it was a good decision and I think it will be,” Imbriaco said.