Six Canadian fighters are on the card at UFC 289 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver 289 on June 10, the same arena which hosted the UFC’s last visit to Canada four years ago.
The event, headlined by Brazilian Amanda Nunes who will be defending her bantamweight crown against Irene Aldana of Mexico, is the first Canadian event since 2019.
Throughout the stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC president Dana White remained persistent in finding locations to host events, but Canada was not an option during that time.
With the world re-opening its doors to the UFC, the promotion has not hesitated in visiting several countries within the last two years, although what seemed to be missing from UFC was Canada, a nation that played a pivotal role in growing the organization from the ground up.
The UFC’s history books certainly don’t lack in Canadian themes, with Hall of Fame inducted events such as Jon Jones’ memorable war with Alexander Gustafsson in Toronto, and an iconic athlete in Montreal’s Georges St-Pierre whom many classify as the greatest martial artist of all time.
As fight week commences, Canadian athletes have not held back in expressing their excitement.
Kyle “The Monster” Nelson is eagerly awaiting his return to UFC 289, which will be his first time fighting in the country since 2018.
“It’s a dream come true. Fighting in front of Canadian fans again is gonna feel amazing,” Nelson said.
Nelson has been following the UFC since he was 14, and he has seen the promotion grow exponentially in Canada.
The 32-year-old featherweight works on the majority of his training at his gym, Muskoka Martial Arts.
He also spends a significant amount of time at House of Champions MMA, a Hamilton gym that has become the homecourt for UFC 289’s Canadian fighters to collaborate and train together for the occasion.
Nelson says MMA has become a popular replacement for hockey and other sports in the GTA and rural areas.
“We’re seeing great wrestlers and jiu-jitsu athletes putting it all together to be great martial artists. Even in a small area like Muskoka, it’s starting to grow,” Nelson said. “We’re starting to see some high-level athletes dedicate themselves to the sport.”
He is currently coming off a draw in his last bout, and his next opponent will not be easier by any means, as Nelson’s goal will be to hand Blake Bilder the first defeat of his career.
“That’s the goal right now and I definitely think it’s an unattainable goal with my skill set,” he said.
The Muskoka native is currently listed as a +170 underdog, but he recognizes the advantage he will have on fight night with a sold-out Rogers Arena cheering him on.
Nelson plans on not only defeating Bilder but ensuring he convincingly completes the difficult task.
“I’m definitely going out there to put a stamp on this one and make sure I get a finish for the Canadian fans,” Nelson said.
As for what oddsmakers in Vegas have to say about Nelson, he is unbothered by their estimation.
“I think I’ve got a better idea of who’s going to win on June 10,” he said.
Also fighting out of House of Champions MMA is Jasmine Jasudavicius, and she will be looking to extend her win streak at UFC 289 against Miranda Maverick.
Jasudavicius is a success story who was granted a UFC contract following her impressive performance on Dana White’s Contender Series, winning four of her last five fights since that occasion.
This will be her Canadian UFC debut, and she says she’s finding it difficult to contain her eagerness leading to fight night.
“It feels absolutely amazing, I’m on top of the world,” Jasudavicius said.
Fighting in a highly competitive flyweight division, the 34-year-old Jasudavicius will have to dip deep in her UFC title search, but she says the added motivation of fighting in her country is enough to spark a fire.
“I feel like I’ll have Canada on my back in there with me. I’m going into battle for my country and I’m so excited,” she said.
Jasudavicius, based in St. Catharines, Ont., may be fighting at home, but she is currently deemed as the biggest statistical underdog on the preliminary card at +245.
She may be a gritty fighter who has never been finished before in her professional career, but it goes to show how difficult of an opponent 25-year-old Maverick may prove to be, and Jasudavicius is not surprised.
“This is by far the most talented and highest-ranked fighter that I’m competing against,” Jasudavicius said. “So, it makes sense that I’m the biggest underdog on the card, but you know everyone loves an underdog story.”
Jasudavicius enjoyed plenty of success in her last five bouts, but her one loss within that time came in June 2022, and she says it is a day which still lingers in her thoughts and she has been training intensively to avoid defeat again.
“I do not want to feel that loss again. I’m training so hard like this is the last fight of my life,” she said. “I’m ready to get in there, lay all my chips on the table and just put it out there for the Canadian fans.”
As one of few female Canadian fighters to have fought in the UFC, a new spark of motivation continues to grow within Jasudavicius.
She says young girls often come to her gym and she recognizes she’s a significant part of their decision, and on June 10 she has the opportunity to inspire a lot of young girls in Canada.
“It’s good for me because it keeps me in check to make sure that I’m being true to myself and being a good role model for these girls,” Jasudavicius said
Jasudavicius says she embraces the responsibility but wants those who look up to her to understand that as long as they give their best efforts, coming up with flaws isn’t a concern.
“I’m not perfect. By all means, I’m far from it, but I just try my best and I just want these little girls to try their best too,” she says.