Fans of ultimate fighting will be able to attend government-approved bouts in Ontario as soon as next year.

The provincial government has announced that it is going to allow mixed martial arts (MMA) events to take place in the province, though it will require them to be regulated.

Minister of Consumer Services Sophia Aggelonitis said the province has come around on the issue after seeing the benefits that MMA could bring to Ontario.

"Our government has been monitoring MMA for some time. We know that the sport has evolved and that Ontarians want to see it here," Aggelonitis said in a statement released Saturday.

"My goal is to make sure we have the tools to keep the competitors safe, and provide an economic boost to communities that want to host MMA events."

Ontario says it will adopt the same MMA rules that are in effect in other North American jurisdictions. Strict safety and medical standards will have to be met at licensed events.

The province believes as many as 30,000 fans could attend a single MMA event, spurring $6 million in economic activity.

The announcement marks a significant reversal in the government's policy, as Premier Dalton McGuinty had dismissed previous calls to bring the sport to Ontario.

Still, with the province posting a large deficit in the last fiscal year, the move could be seen as a way to raise much-needed cash.

Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said that McGuinty had done some serious "back-tracking" on the issue.

"Perhaps the UFC will declare Dalton McGuinty the heavy-weight champion of flip-flopping," he said.

Still, Aggelonitis told reporters that regulating the sport was the best option.

"We have always said that we would be monitoring mixed martial arts and we have been doing that for some time," she said.

"We need to have a system in place where we regulate it; that's the only way I can control the safety of competitors."

Recent MMA events in Montreal and Vancouver drew sellout crowds, with the sport's marquee organization UFC cashing in on a wave of media attention.

UFC has long been trying to break into Canada' most populous province and its thousands of fans who watch each fight on pay-per-view television.

"It's been a long time coming and we're thrilled," UFC spokesman Marc Ratner told The Canadian Press Saturday.

"Ontario is a very, very important market to us," he added. "Canada is the mecca of the sport. Toronto is one of THE MMA cities in the world."

It isn't known where the first UFC event will be held in the province, but promoters are apparently looking at the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre.

"We think we're going to sell more tickets here than we have anywhere. This is a very hot market," said UFC president Dana White several months ago.