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UFC's David Shaw talks GSP vs. Khabib, UFC Africa, and Weili Zhang's impact

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Ahead of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 16 in Vancouver, UFC senior vice president of international and content David Shaw spoke with the media on the state of the promotion from a global standpoint.

First, Shaw spoke on the current landscape of the UFC’s Canadian ventures pertinent to Vancouver and beyond. According to Shaw, the promotion has released more tickets than expected for Saturday’s UFC Vancouver headlined by Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje.

Despite not having hosted a show since 2015, Shaw said Montreal is one market which is always on the UFC’s radar. The UFC visited Montreal six times from 2008-2013 during the reign of Georges St. Pierre, but have only returned once since.

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Additionally, Shaw discussed the likelihood of a matchup between “GSP” and lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov will take place in either Montreal or Abu Dhabi in the future.

“How’s the Olympic stadium doing these days?” Shaw said. “I don’t know. (It’s) more of a Dana (White) question. I’m not sure what those guys have in store. It’s something that’s obviously on the radar I think for a lot of people.

“It’d be cool if that fight could make sense, but there’s a lot of reason why it doesn’t make sense. I think that where we’re at right now is Khabib was very vocal about getting some rest and sitting back and thinking about the next couple fights of his career.”

Throughout his scrum, Shaw indicated the promotion is open-minded when considering future potential international locations. Shaw announced the UFC is planning on hosting 42 events in 2020 with three events in Canada – the same number it promoted in 2019.

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Over the past two years, the UFC has seen a spike in the success of African-born fighters. Numerous native competitors have called for the promotion to bring a show to Africa, including UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman, interim UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, and UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou.

“I don’t think the timing has ever been as ripe as it is right now,” Shaw said. “There’s a litany of challenges we’d have to put on an event in Africa. Again, (there are) lots of different countries.

“I think the first look we probably have is South Africa because of the importance of our broadcast relationship there with SuperSport. But the possibilities are definitely on the list right now.”

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China is another region which has surfaced as a potential hub for untapped growth and potential, per Shaw. In August, the UFC crowned its first Chinese champion, Weili Zhang. In doing so, the women’s flyweight champ may have spurred an expansion of interest in the region.

With the brevity of Zhang’s first-round TKO of Jessica Andrade and the subsequent overwhelming social media responses, Shaw believes a quick return to China could be in order.

“I think there’s a real argument to have her fight in China,” Shaw said. “This is the ‘strike while the iron’ is hot kind of concept where the numbers she was putting up and the response we got from not only the mixed martial arts community but the community as a whole has been like nothing we’ve ever seen before – to the extent we have the opportunity to take her back a few more times.”

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