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SYDNEY – The most visible symbol of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the cage in which the mixed martial arts bouts are contested.
And with no Octagon, there is no show. As the Octagon made its journey from Los Angeles to Australia, where it will be used on Saturday (Sunday locally) for UFC 110 at Acer Arena, it created a few anxious moments for the UFC's Marshall Zelaznik, the UFC's managing director of international development.
The cage was delayed in Taiwanese customs on its journey and Zelaznik's heart beat just a little bit faster.
"You look at where it is and how long it takes and you start to get a little concerned," Zelaznik said, chuckling. "You go, 'So how long is this thing going to take to finally get here?' If there's one thing we need to put on a show, that's it. You can't do an event without the Octagon."
Understanding international shipping times was not much of an issue in the early days after Zuffa purchased the UFC from Semaphore Entertainment Group in 2001. Most of the shows were held in the U.S. and it was easy to truck it from place to place.
In 2010, though, the UFC already has fights scheduled in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and will almost certainly will hold another show in the United Kingdom.
For UFC 110, that means moving the Octagon, which weighs between three and four tons, about 10,000 miles. There's not an overnight shipping company for that task.
"It's an amazing logistical challenge," said Zelaznik, the man responsible for finding new markets and for making certain the international shows run smoothly.
The Octagon – of which there are several, Zelaznik says – is stored in a 40-foot container when not in use. The UFC investigated shipping it by airplane, but Zelaznik said the costs were outrageously high.
He declined to give a specific figure, but said it was at least four times the cost of transporting it by ship.
And so, the cage that will be used on Sunday was stuck on a ship in Los Angeles last month and, literally, sent on a voyage halfway around the world. It got stuck in customs, but Zelaznik said the Octagon made it into Australia two weeks ago, where it will stay.
He said Zuffa owns eight Octagons. The UFC made the decision to keep the cage that will be used at UFC 110 in Australia so that it will be easier to transport for other shows in the Asia and the South Pacific.
It is putting a card on in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on April 10 and will ship an Octagon from London for use.
"We're doing so many events and frequently, we have events that butt up against each other pretty closely," he said. "We may be doing an event in Miami and then another in California, so we'll have one Octagon on a truck heading to Miami and the other sitting in California. Then, we might have a show in the Midwest, so we'll have to have one heading that way."
When the UFC moved beyond U.S. borders, the company established an office in the U.K. to manage the international shows. At first, it received significant help from the home office and it was not uncommon to see an army of U.S.-based Zuffa employees at the international cards.
Such, though, is not the case now as the U.K. office is primarily handling the responsibilities for the international shows itself, with minimal assistance from the U.S. staff.
One of the questions that UFC president Dana White frequently gets from media is about where the company is headed. White's answer typically is, "We're going everywhere." That's due, in no small part, to Zelaznik.
He's been working on finding a new television partner in Italy and said that could be completed by the middle of the year. That would then lead, he said, to the likelihood of a live show in Italy sometime in 2011.
In France, the Ministry of Sport does not regulate MMA, so the UFC isn't able to do a live show there.
"But as soon as we get those regulatory issues resolved, we'll be in Paris," he said. He said the UFC does well on television in the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries and said a live event could be held there.
"We could easily be in Sweden or Denmark [for a live show]," he said. "There are some regulatory issues in Sweden that need to get worked out, but it's been a good TV market for us and it's on our radar."
All of that means that the logistical problems of moving a multi-ton circus will increase dramatically.
But to Zelaznik, it's hardly a bad thing.
"One of the goals of the company is to grow and increase awareness of the sport, not just in the U.S. and the U.K., but all around the world," he said. "As we get more successful, having to figure these things out is one of the consequences. As we go to more places, it's a sign to us that we're doing the right things and we're building the interest in this sport."