Canada has hosted the third-most UFC events out of any country, only trailing the United States and Brazil. Despite the mixed martial arts leader returning to its frequent international haunts such as Brazil, England and Australia, almost four years have passed since the last time the Octagon landed up north. At UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana, that gap is rectified as the Octagon rises in Vancouver, and five Canadians will feature on the 11-fight card.
The first Canadian to make the walk in Rogers Arena is Kyle Nelson, who takes on Blake Bilder in a featherweight contest. Nelson is sure to shout out his teammate Diana Belbita, who represents Romania but also fights out of House of Champions in Ontario.
“Canada is kind of the best country in the world,” Nelson told UFC.com. “It’s always great to fight in the best country in the world. That's awesome. I enjoy going to England and all over the States and stuff, but there's something about the atmosphere in the fight fans here in Canada that really wakes up your inner spirit.”
While UFC 289 is the third Canadian walk to the Octagon for Nelson, it is the first for “Proper” Mike Malott, who earned his contract on Dana White’s Contender Series and has become one of the brightest new stars in Canadian MMA. At 289, Malott is the final Canadian to make the walk as he makes his pay-per-view debut.
Between his Contender Series bout and two UFC fights, Malott hasn’t seen the stool once. After his latest first-round finish (a submission win over Yohan Lainesse in February 2023), Malott all but knew he would end up on this card. It was just a matter of opponent and, eventually, he got the name Adam Fugitt. When he hits the tunnel on June 10, it’ll be the moment his dream of representing Canada in Canada comes true.
“As a kid, I didn't know necessarily that I was going to be a fighter, but I always knew I was a dreamer,” Malott said. “Pumping my legs on swing sets as a kid, getting higher and higher, and just visualizing like, ‘Someday, something big is going to happen. I'm going to be in stadiums, I'm going to be in arenas, and there are going to be Canadian flags everywhere.’”
Marc-Andre Barriault is less of a stranger to these circumstances. He has fought twice up North and once on a Canadian pay-per-view (UFC 240). Unfortunately, he lost both fights, but that was nearly four years and eight fights ago.
“Powerbar” does recall the unique buzz that comes with getting the pop from a home crowd like the one he got for his UFC debut in Ottawa.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is real,’” he said. “Right now, I just want to stay in the moment, but I also want to keep all the energy from the crowd and just put on a good show.”
Each of them cite Georges St-Pierre as an inspiration, and Malott was in the crowd when “Rush” headlined UFC 129 in Toronto, featuring a then-record crowd. Malott had just made his professional debut, and he could see himself making that same moment a reality for himself.
“I saw these guys achieve their dreams, and I was like, ‘They're not far from where I'm from. If they can do it, I can do it,’” Malott said. “I get that opportunity on Saturday night. Being on the main card of a pay-per-view in Canada for the first time that the UFC has been back in years — this is monumental for me.”
After the UFC’s returns to England, Brazil and Australia produced memorable moments and highlights, Canada is sure to make its own mark in the Octagon’s reintroduction. Years of waiting are over, and all that’s left is enjoying the action on June 10.
“I can't wait to feel the energy,” Barriault said. “I already feel all the vibes, so I cannot imagine on Saturday — I know that the fans are going to be there, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.”
UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana took place live from the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada on June 10, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!