SPORTS

UFC confident card will succeed despite doping controversy and no St-Pierre

02/25/2015 04:56 EST | Updated 04/27/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The Ultimate Fighting Championship is confident that UFC186 at the Bell Centre will be a success despite local star Georges St-Pierre being on sabbatical and with the sport in the midst of a doping controversy.

Tom Wright, the UFC's general manager for Canada, said Wednesday that reduced ticket prices and having two championship bouts will help sell the April 25 fight card.

The feature attractions are bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw (12-2) in a rematch with top contender Renan Barao (35-2) and Demetrious Johnson (21-2-1) defending his flyweight title against Kyoji Horiguchi (15-1).

It will be the seventh UFC card in Montreal, which is the most ever held in a city other than Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But it is the first since St-Pierre withdrew from the sport more than a year ago.

The former champion has not retired, and may yet make a comeback, especially with UFC boss Dana White's announcement last week that a program of enhanced out of competition dope testing will begin July 1 in response to star fighter Anderson Silva's positive tests for steroids and other substances.

"It'll be the first time we tried to sell UFC in Montreal without Georges, but while he may not be fighting, Georges is still very much a part of UFC," said Wright. "It's the first time ever that we've brought two championships, which is the really important reason for fans to want to come out."

He said that when St-Pierre was on the card, top tickets cost $600. The most expensive will cost $375 this time. But he said events have succeeded at the Bell Centre before without St-Pierre.

Local attractions include veteran Patrick Cote (21-9), now fighting down one division at welterweight, against Joe Riggs (40-15) and lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier (6-1) facing David Michaud (8-1).

There is also former light heavyweight champion Quinton (Rampage) Jackson's return after a two-year absence.

But of late, attention has focused on Silva, who failed a Jan. 9 out of competition test and had banned drugs turn up on a post-fight test after his Jan. 31 bout with Nick Diaz. Silva, who has denied being a drug cheat, is to appear at a disciplinary hearing in March.

One of Cote's losses was to Silva, but he harbours no ill-will toward the former champion.

"I have huge respect for him," said Cote. "In my mind, he's still the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts.

"In that fight, I blew out my knee."

But Cote supports stricter testing and hopes it lures St-Pierre back to the octagon.

"It'll be a long road, but I know Georges is still in good shape and he's starting to get the itch to come back," he said. "Everyone wants to see him back. But at this time, I think the UFC needs Georges more than Georges needs the UFC."

Dillashaw was all for more testing.

"Yeah, harsher penalties, career enders," he said. "With any sport, they have to deal with the big name getting caught and then they have stricter tests. Now's our time. There's always going to be a guy willing to push the limits, but those guys will get weeded out."

Aubin-Mercier said testing is important to ensure athletes and not chemists decide matches.

"I don't know if you can win this war, but we have to try because if we don't it will be like Formula One — technology first and then the athlete," he said.

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