VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Almost exactly a year ago, a group of reporters crowded around Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White prior to UFC 115. One of them asked White if he felt the day would when mixed martial arts would ever be as big as hockey.
"Hockey!" White shrieked, before laughing.
The implication was clear. In White's mind, MMA, and particularly the UFC's brand of it, had long since surpassed hockey in terms of relevance with the general public.
Fast forward a year and White is back in Vancouver, promoting UFC 131 on Saturday at Rogers Arena, with a lot more respect for hockey, particularly Canadians' passion for the sport. Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena between the Boston Bruins and the hometown Vancouver Canucks is Friday night and the UFC was not the big story in town, as it was a year earlier.
A Boston-area native, the usually outspoken White was asked at the UFC 131 prefight news conference whether he was rooting for the Bruins. White demurred and didn't answer, a rarity for him.
Later, as he was pressed about the wisdom of scheduling an MMA event in Canada during the week of the Stanley Cup Final, White finally gave some ground.
"The thing about coming up to Canada is, people love their hockey up here," White said. "It's the only thing everybody cares about. It's part of this culture. They've treated us so well up here and I feel we're the No. 2 sport [in Canada] behind hockey. When they have their championship going on, I absolutely respect that 100 percent."
The fact that the Canucks are playing for the Stanley Cup has taken some of the attention away from the UFC card and pushed the coverage of the show into the back pages of the local papers. The fight card is still not a sellout, but both White and Tom Wright, the UFC's head of the Canadian office, are unconcerned. Wright said the Rogers Arena will be configured on Saturday to seat between 14,000-15,000 and he said he expects ticket sales to hit between 13,000-14,000.
White said the Canucks deserved the attention they were receiving and said he didn't expect it to hurt the UFC card at all. He's frequently praised the Canadian market as one of his best and said that Canadians are supporting the UFC show despite the presence of the Stanley Cup Final in the city.
"Canada has been very good to us," White said. "It's been amazing. The way they have embraced this sport and this brand is fantastic. I love it. Let me tell you, I have no problem playing second fiddle to their hockey team here playing for the championship. I get it.
"Let me tell you what: It's good to be second fiddle. I've been 90th fiddle from where I come from. Real mainstream media still doesn't cover us the way they cover the other sports in the United States. The way that Canada handles the UFC, you will hear no [complaining] from me. It's been fantastic here and always is every time we come up here. We love it."
The only real problem the UFC had with the presence of the Stanley Cup Final was finding a place to hold the weigh-ins. It was scheduled to be in Rogers Arena on Friday, but with Game 5 in the arena that evening, logistics made it impossible.
Instead, the UFC moved the weigh-in outside near the water at Jack Poole Plaza, where all 24 fighters made weight.
Darren Elkins 145 vs. Michihiro Omigawa 145
Aaron Rosa 261 vs. Joey Beltran 247
Jason Young 145 vs. Dustin Poirier 146
James Head 186 vs. Nick Ring 185
Mike Massenzio 201 vs. Krzysztof Soszynski 205
Chris Weidman 186 vs. Jesse Bongfeldt 185
Yves Edwards 155 vs. Sam Stout 155
Vagner Rocha 155 vs. Donald Cerrone 155
Dave Herman 233 vs. Jon Olav Einemo 261
Mark Munoz 186 vs. Demian Maia 186
Diego Nunes 145 vs. Kenny Florian 146
Shane Carwin 254 vs. Junior dos Santos 239
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Why the NHL made a Bruins player ditch his Red Sox hat
• Doctors say NFL lockout will impact players' health
• Ryan Howard hits homer in memory of late 7-year-old fan