One major jurisdiction down, two more to go.
A couple days back Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick signed a bill allowing the athletic commission to sanction mixed martial arts events in the Bay State
and toppling a huge barrier that had stood between Ultimate Fighting Championship and unconditional mainstream acceptance. After all, how can you argue that mixed martial arts, and the UFC in particular, deserves recognition alongside sports like football and baseball when it's still illegal in certain states (and one big province)?
Truthfully, you can't, but Monday's bill-signing nudges the UFC a little further from the fringe and sends a strong signal to other holdout jurisdictions that almost-anything-goes fighting is actually worth embracing.
UFC president and Boston native Dana White acknowledged as much on his twitter page
just after the bill became law.
"Think about where we started" he wrote. "One state to go then Ontario!!!"
Actually, Monday's ruling means that MMA is legal in 42 of the 48 states that have athletic commissions, but of the six commissions still outlawing the sport, only one truly counts.
And as far as Ontario is concerned, the UFC has been lobbying here since 2006, shortly after they hired former Nevada Athletic Commission head Marc Ratner and gave him the task of legalizing MMA in every major jurisdiction on the continent.
As long as I've been covering sports at the Star, the folks at the provincial athletic commission have told me that MMA is illegal here because it violates Section 83 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits unsanctioned prize fights. As a result, anyone hosting anything resembling an MMA event in Ontario could go to jail and pays a fine.
But the Criminal Code appears to allow provinces to decide which types of fighting to sanction, which would explain why MMA is legal in places like Quebec. So if Ontario would simply sanction MMA events, they would no longer be illegal here.
|Georges St. Pierre smashes Matt Serra's face at UFC 83 in Montreal, where professional MMA won't land you in jail.|
So what will it take to sway the government?
Might be the money.
The province currently collects two percent of the gate revenue from boxing events, which doesn't sound like much but adds up when you consider that the live gate at UFC events routinely exceeds $3 million (U.S.). Accoding to White, last November's showdown between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar grossed $4.8 million (U.S.) in ticket sales. When lobbying provincial officials earlier this year Ratner projected that UFC events in Ontario could generate $4 million in tax revenue annually.
And any provincial official who met with Ratner has to be thinking hard about opening the province's coffers to that kind of cash.
I mean, wouldn't you rather have UFC than HST?