The UFC could have had a champion from Ontario years ago — maybe even from Toronto — if mixed martial arts had been legalized sooner in this province, according to a former fighter who says the sport has now passed him by.
Peter Franchi had the last of six professional fights in 2007. He finished with a 2-3-1 record and now works in law enforcement.
“I’m 34 years old. I wish it had been legalized five or 10 years ago,” Franchi said. “I would’ve loved to have been able to do this full time.”
Last August, the Ontario government announced it would start sanctioning MMA in 2011. Up until this spring, local fighters had to go out-of-province to compete in MMA and even in kickboxing.
“It was hard to gain enough experience to jump up to the pro ranks,” said Franchi, who travelled to Quebec and Indiana to compete.
“My first time was overwhelming,” he said. “There were up to 5,000 people in attendance.
“The thing with fighting outside of your own province is you’re always the ‘alway team.’ That means cutting weight in hotel rooms and that’s so hard to do.”
In 2005, Franchi travelled to Indiana with four other Toronto fighters to compete in a tournament the local promotion dubbed “U.S. vs. Canada.”
While all Canadians made weight, four of the Americans didn’t and none were tested for performance-enhancing drugs. The Canadians agreed to fight anyways and only Franchi, whose opponent made weight, won his fight.
“They looked bigger than our guys,” Franchi recalls. “By regulating it, like Ontario has, it’s going to ensure the safety and fairness for all the athletes involved.”
With some of the smaller promotions not paying travelling costs, Franchi said fighters often broke even.
“I saw a lot of great talent (leave the sport.) Guys who had talent like GSP (Georges St-Pierre), but didn’t have anywhere to showcase their skills or money to travel abroad.”
He says he’s proud of the Ontario fighters who persevered. Athletes like Sam Stout, Sean Pierson and Mark Hominick, who is competing for the featherweight belt at UFC 129 Saturday.
“We’re finally able to see how our hometown boys fight on their own soil,” Franchi said. “Look out for the Ontario boys this weekend.”