While there is no formal review underway, Ontario is looking at the issue of mixed martial arts.
And it appears one major obstacle - the Criminal Code - raised in the past by Ken Hayashi, chairman of the Ontario Athletic Commission, is no longer a stumbling block.
Unlike such provinces as Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, where boxing commissions have brought the sport under their umbrella, MMA is not sanctioned in Ontario. The UFC, however, has said Ontario is its next target for regulatory approval after New York and Massachusetts.
While there is no movement yet from Ontario, a spokesman said MMA is "on the radar" for the provincial government.
"We're certainly aware of the sport and of the issue, and particularly its growing popularity," Sarbjit Kaur, senior communication adviser to the minister of small business and consumer services, said Tuesday. "While we do not have any formal review process in place right now, we are looking at it. No decision has been made yet - for or against it.
"But it's more about looking at things like what other jurisdictions are doing and, of course, safety would definitely be a factor. . . . So it's certainly not something that we're dead against. It's more of just a still looking at it (approach), trying to assess the entire industry and the sport. It's really too early to say that anything like it would be coming to Ontario or it won't be, but we are aware of it."
Hayashi has explained Ontario's resistance to the growing sport by arguing that staging MMA shows is a Criminal Code offence.
Hayashi refers to Section 83.1 of the Criminal Code which says anyone who "engages as a principal in a prize fight," encourages, promotes or is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter is guilty of an offence - unless the "boxing contest" is "held with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board or commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the legislature of a province for the control of sport within the province."
The section also allows "a boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass."
"A mixed martial event is not a boxing contest," Hayashi said early last year.
Kaur, however, says "Section 83 and all of that is not really the crux of it, for us."
"It's more of looking at all of it and looking at the safety angle and everything like that. And we do realize it has been sanctioned in some other jurisdictions."
A recent call to Hayashi was ultimately referred to Kaur.
The issue of MMA sanctioning resurfaced recently in Winnipeg after an 18-year-old fighter was hurt in a bout.
Dean Lewis of Fort McMurray, Alta., was taken to hospital after he collapsed after the third round. He had a subdural hematoma, severe concussion, fractured orbital bone and badly broken nose.
Winnipeg councillor Grant Nordman has urged the sport be banned. Lewis, however, does not support such a move.
The UFC debuted in Canada last April, when UFC 83 at Montreal's Bell Centre became the organization's fastest ever sellout and produced it's largest ever crowd of 21,000-plus. Another card, UFC 97, is scheduled for April 18 in Montreal.
Toronto is next, UFC president Dana White said in December, with the Rogers Centre a possible venue.
"We are going to attack Toronto," he told reporters in Las Vegas. "And we're going to get that done. We want to get a fight done in Ontario bad. And we're going to do a big stadium there too. We're not talking 10, 15, 20,000, we're going to do a big stadium in Toronto."
"This has been a successful sport now for almost 10 years," White continued. "We've been a successful organization that can come in and put on a world-class sporting event. Why can't we do it in Ontario? It makes no sense. It's common sense that this is going to happen."
In its campaign to have New York sanction the sport, the UFC commissioned a study that suggests a UFC show would bring in some US$11.5 million in "net new" economic activity, including $5.3 million in direct event spending.
Athletic commissions also benefit directly from UFC shows.
The UFC 83 gate was some US$5 million with the Quebec Boxing Commission receiving its maximum share of C$55,330. The commission receives five per cent of the first $500,000 gate with three per cent of anything on top of that to the maximum of $55,330.
In Nevada, by contrast, the athletic commission takes four per cent of the gate, which was US$4.3 million at UFC 94 last month in Las Vegas, and up to $50,000 in TV rights.
UFC 97 Card
There will be no shortage of Canadians on the UFC 97 card in Montreal in April, although only one may make it to the main card. Here's a tentative look at the lineup, which is still in the works:
Lightweights: (Handsome) Matt Wiman, U.S., versus Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout, London, Ont.
Welterweights: T.J. Grant, Dartmouth, N.S., versus Ryo (Piranha) Chonan, Japan
Lightweights: David Bielkheden, Sweden, versus Mark Bocek, Woodbridge, Ont.
Middleweights: Ed Herman, U.S., versus David (The Crow) Loiseau, Montreal
Middleweights: Nate Quarry, U.S., versus Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald, Red Deer, Alta.
Middleweights: Xavier Foupa-Pokam, France, versus Denis Kang, Vancouver
Light-Heavyweights: Luiz Cane, Brazil, versus Steve Cantwell, U.S.
Heavyweights: Antoni Hardonk, U.S., versus Cheick Kongo, France
Light-Heavyweights: Brian Stann, U.S., versus Krzysztof Soszynski, Winnipeg
Light-Heavyweights: Mauricio (Shogun) Rua, Brazil, versus Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell, U.S.
Middleweight title: Thales Leites, Brazil, versus Anderson (The Spider) Silva, Brazil
Notes: World Extreme Cagefighting is coming to Chicago on April 5 with Miguel Angel Torres (35-1) defending his bantamweight title against unbeaten Brian Bowles (7-0). In another bantamweight (135-pound) bout, Jeff (Big Frog) Curran (31-10-1) takes on Joseph Benavidez (9-0) at the UIC Pavilion card.... Welsh band People in Planes reports business is booming after its song "Last Man Standing" was used in the final episode of the "UFC Primetime" TV show setting up the UFC 94 title matchup Jan. 31 of Canadian Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn. "We got truly amazing feedback from the program, and our hits on our web pages went out of the roof," the band told The Canadian Press via email. "Seemed like we grabbed loads of new fans, they said it fitted the program like a glove."
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