UFC TKO'd in BC
Looks like the UFC's Vancouver debut, originally scheduled for June 12, has been TKO'd and the show will now take place in Cincinnati.
As always happens when blockbuster events fail to take place, two divergent stories have emerged to explain why the UFC won't go ahead with its Vancouver show.
If you believe the story the city's licensing office, the UFC failed to comply with a simple request to provide a security deposit and proof of insurance, delaying the entire process and jeopardizing the largest combat sports event in British Columbia's history.
Wait, no. That's all wrong. According to the Vancouver Sun's sources, the city council and the athletic commission bogged down the process with unreasonable demands, leaving the UFC with no choice but to cancel the largest combat sports event in British Columbia's history.
Either way UFC 115 now seems headed for Ohio, and no matter which side is right one truth is emerging from this whole mess:
Changing laws and perceptions around mixed martial arts is tougher than it looks.
We know that first hand from the UFC's experience in Toronto. President Dana White appeared at the Eaton Centre last week to greet fans and rally support for the UFC's effort to legalize the sport in Ontario, but as premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters seeking his reaction, MMA still isn't a priority of the provincial government. So despite the media hype White's visit generated, Ontario remains one of a handful of major North American jurisdictions (along with New York and now, it seems, B.C.) that refuse to sanction MMA.
And two weeks later the case for legalized MMA across the continent seemed to receive a boost when Vancouver's city council and athletic commission announced they settled legal issues with the UFC and agreed on a June show at GM Place.
MMA advocates hailed the move as milestone, but now it seems changing the law in Vancouver was easier than changing the minds of the people who ultimately decide whether or not UFC is welcome there. If you believe the Sun story, the same folks who opened the city's doors to the UFC second-guessed their own decision and set up bureaucratic obstacles to force the UFC to cancel the show.
At issue for the city is the matter of liability, should a fighter sue the city for allowing them to compete in an event in which they became injured -- a situation that, to date, hasn't occurred anywhere else.
Former Vancouver Athletic Commission member Dr. Raj Sandhu said the city is embroiled in a battle between departments, city staff and council, with problems that go beyond simple regulation.
"The liability issue is garbage. They wanted $12 million in liability put up by the promoters," said Sandhu. "We had WWE wrestling here, nobody asked them for $12 million. When Trevor Berbick boxed here, no $12 million liability for him. So all of a sudden they come up with this figure; It's as if [Mayor] Gregor Robertson wants to come out squeaky clean. He doesn't want the event."
A disappointment for sure, especially when you consider that along with UFC 113 (May 8 in Montreal), an a card in Vancouver would have meant two Canadian events in five weeks from an organization that typically visits Canada once a year.
But I can't say the development is a huge setback, either for the UFC or for local MMA fans.
The UFC generated more than $240 million (U.S.) in pay-per-view revenue in 2008. In the past year they have hosted shows in Montreal, Germany, Australia and England, with an event planned for Abu Dhabi on April 10. Clearly the company's cash flow is strong and international following widespread, even without events in two of Canada's three biggest cities.
And I doubt any ripple effect caused by the BC reversal will affect MMA's legal status in Ontario simply because the athletic commission here seems immune to decisions made elsewhere, whether or not they favour MMA. Otherwise, Ontario would have followed Massachusetts and legalized the sport over the winter, or followed Quebec and sanctioned it years ago.
The folks who regulate combat sports in Ontario will make a final decision on MMA when only they're ready, regardless of what happens elsewhere. So while the collapse of UFC 115 in Vancouver doesn't help the case for legal MMA in Ontario, it doesn't damage it either.
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