Ont. premier ducks under UFC's push to legalize MMA
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, March 24, 2010 8:32PM EDT
UFC President Dana White was in Ontario Tuesday lobbying to have mixed martial arts legally sanctioned by the province, but found an opponent in Premier Dalton McGuinty who ducked out of the fight.
"I'm tapping out on this," was the premier's reply to repeated questions from reporters on whether he would look into legalizing the world's fastest growing spectator sport.
McGuinty said the issue was not on his agenda.
"If I was to knock on 1,000 Ontario family doors and ask them for their top-three concerns, I'd be surprised if anybody said, ‘Well you know… we've got to start this new kind of mixed martial arts in Ontario. That's going to mean a lot to me, my family and our future together,'" he said.
White was at Toronto's Eaton Centre for a question-and-answer session with hundreds of fans Tuesday.
"What you have to understand is this education process is going to take longer in some places than it does in others," he told the crowd, referring to the fight to bring the sport to Ontario. "It's happening. I'm going to keep coming up here until it gets done.
"This is the biggest (MMA) market in the world and there's no reason it shouldn't be here."
Toronto is considered the UFC's top market per capita for pay-per-view buys, and UFC has been lobbying hard to have the sport sanctioned in the province.
The UFC is about as popular as basketball in Canada according to polls, in part thanks to homegrown talent such as welterweight champion Georges "Rush" St-Pierre, who is arguably the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world.
Many MMA fans claim the province is following a double standard -- allowing other violent sports such as boxing or even hockey to be sanctioned, but not their sport.
"It's violent sport, that's what it is, it's fighting," Nabil "The Thrill" Khatib, a pro MMA fighter from Rockland, Ont., told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday. "But so is boxing, so is wrestling, so is jujitsu.
"But . . . all those sports are legal."
Khatib argues boxing is much more dangerous than MMA because of the amount of head trauma dished out in the boxing ring.
"Find me one MMA fighter that's punch drunk," he said.
Punch drunk, or dementia pugilistica, is a neurological condition that often affects professional boxers due to repeated blows to the head.
Khatib points out MMA uses much smaller gloves than boxing (the UFC uses 4-6 ounce gloves verses 10 ounces for most professional boxers) and that MMA features grappling and submission techniques and is not simply about knocking your opponent out.
‘Your brain will rock back and forth much more with a larger surface glove," he said.
Additionally, Khatib says in MMA if a participant is knocked down more than once, the fight is usually called, but in boxing, fighters are encouraged to keep standing up if they can.
Khatib admits that the UFC's beginnings in the 1990s, when there were few rules, hurt the sport's image. But he said he became more interested in the sport when more rules were enacted, making it much safer and more technical.
A political fight
White did find an ally in Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, who said he would sanction the sport.
"I just think this reflects a premier who is hanging around an elite crowd and is dramatically out-of-touch with what is the fastest growing spectator sport in North America," Hudak said.
White admitted he understood McGuinty's position though.
"This guy's running the government. Should MMA be on the top of his list? No, there's a lot of other things that are more important. But what he didn't say is ‘it's not on my list.' And at one time that was his position. He didn't want to hear about mixed martial arts," White said.
"It's on his list now. It's not on the top of his list and it shouldn't be. We're probably in the worst economic situation in the history of the world, not just in the U.S. but everywhere. There's a lot more problems that this guy needs to deal with other than get MMA regulated."
The economic argument may be the one that eventually tips the scales in favour of MMA being regulated.
UFC events in Montreal have been estimated to bring in about $50 million in economic spin-offs for the city. A UFC event in Toronto's Rogers Centre could certainly bring in more.
Cable giant Rogers Communications, which airs the UFC on its sports network, has already gone on the record in its support for the sport being sanctioned.
Ontario is one of a dwindling number of jurisdictions that does not sanction MMA. Massachusetts recently legalized the sport and the state of New York, the other major hold out, is expected to legalize the sport soon.
The UFC has also held events in Australia, England, Germany, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Next month it will visit the United Arab Emirates.
Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba and several communities in British Columbia sanction the sport, and Montreal is scheduled to hold a third UFC event in May.
Vancouver will host its first UFC event in June.