UFC in BC and Ontario -- my gut feeling.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Haven't been datelining my sporadic blog posts but I've been on the road for the last little while, immersed our southern neighbour's national pastime, and trying my best to stay connected to the world of professional pugilism.
Anyway thanks to the Magic of Twitter I managed to find out last week what you hardcore MMA fans surely already know: That the UFC and the City of Vancouver have settled whatever differences (reportedly liability insurance and security deposits) were delaying UFC 115. The show will go on as originally scheduled, June 15 at GM Place, and UFC president Dana White lit up his Twitter feed last week trumpeting the news.
Understandable. Given the choice, who among us wouldn't choose a weekend in Vancouver over a weekend in Cincinnati. No disrespect to the hometown of Rich Franklin, Aaron Pryor and one half of Reflection Eternal, but I'd take VanCity, and so would most of you.
So what effect, if any, will the confirmation of the Vancouver show have on MMA's legal status in Ontario?
More on that in a second.
First, if any of you is an Insider at ESPN.com, you need to check out Tim Keown's feature on UFC lightweight champ B.J. Penn, and how strength and conditioning guru (and Hall-of-Shame stage dad) Marv Marinovich uses unorthodox training techniques to propel The Prodigy to new levels of performance.
If you're not an Insider, do the 20th century thing and pick up a copy of the magazine -- the one with Ichiro et al on the cover. If this story alone isn't worth your time and money I owe you....an apology.
OK, back to twitter and the UFC and the province that's Yours to Discover.
A post from Showdown Joe popped up in my TweetDeck last week, linking to this blog post from local journalist and MMA blogger Barrett Hooper.
If you didn't click the link here's the Reader's Digest version:
If you're upset that MMA events are still illegal in Ontario then your beef is with Ken Hayashi, head of the Ontario Athletic commission and the person best positioned to start the legalization process. He continues to claim section 83 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws unsanctioned prizefights, also outlaws any MMA event, and that only a regime change or extreme attitude adjustment within the athletic commission can give MMA advocates what they're looking for.
In a lot of ways, Hooper's right.
I've been asking the same questions of Hayashi every few months for five years now, and getting the same answers about why MMA isn't legal in Ontario:
* The sport lacks a safety record at the amateur level, but the commission doesn't deal with amateur sports so direct further questions elsewhere.
* The sport violates section 83 of the Criminal Code, but the Ontario commission can't speak to what's happening in Quebec or Alberta, so direct further questions elsewhere.
* No, our stance on the sport hasn't changed in light of (insert development here), so please, direct further questions elsewhere.
Trust me, I'm familiar with the frustration Hooper feels dealing with the Ontario commission on this topic.
But the more I think and talk and write about it, the more my mind returns to the same question:
What if the keeping MMA out of Ontario really is the safest course of action -- for fighters, I mean.
Before we continue... yes, I'm aware of the stats. One hundred eleven UFC shows and counting, no life threatening injuries. And I've followed both sports long enough to know that while you're more likely to break a bone in a mixed martial arts match, it's a much safer sport than boxing, where 12 rounds of head shots can lead to a lifetime of cognitive impairment.
Now, nobody with the power to affect combat sports legislation would ever say this but my gut feeling is that if the UFC were the only mixed martial arts organization going changing the law wouldn't be a problem.
Hayashi makes clear his concerns about safety and the UFC would be able to satisfy them. That organization has the manpower to make sure that qualified referees, judges and doctors would work any show that took place in this province and maintain the safety record they've already established.
Problem is, the UFC isn't the only MMA promotion out there, and if you legalize the sport for Dana White you also legalize it for every small-time local hustler who can string together a three letter acronym and call himself an MMA promoter. These guys wouldn't have access to the judges, referees and doctors the UFC would bring, who do you think would have to provide officials for these smaller shows?
And if you don't think that presents concerns about the level of safety and quality of officiating then you haven't been to a pro boxing show in this province.
This is not to accuse the Athletic Commission of widespread corruption and incompetence, but folks who follow boxing locally know commission officials offer plenty to question.
* Nov. 21, 2009, Undefeated filipino prospect Ciso "Kid Terrible" Morales rides into Casino Rama on Marvin Sonsona's coattails and meets Mexico's Miguel Angel Gonzales Piedras, who batters Morales for eight rounds. Everybody on press row saw the fight as a clear win for Piedras, and even the large Filipino cheering section fell silent after the final bell, awaiting the inevitable blemish on their guy's record.
They didn't need to worry. Two judges scored the fight for Morales and a third had it a draw. Morales escaped with his perfect record intact and the rest of us left the building if Piedras ever had a chance at winning a decision.
* Jan. 16, 2010, Another undefeated prospect, Victor Puiu, meets another rugged Mexican, Ulises Jimenez, and gets the worst of a sloppy eight-round slugfest. Again, the outcome seems clear -- a decision win for Jimenez, who took the fight on short notice and landed the cleaner and more numerous blows. And again the judges render a mysterious decision -- a draw. Puiu remains undefeated.
**I'm not suggesting anything crooked in either case. Just saying the decisions were dreadful.**
Jan. 16, 2010, On the Puiu-Jimenez undercard, amateur standout and two-time provincial champ Denton Daley made his pro debut against a guy named Irving Chestnut. Daley is quick, powerful and learning rapidly after a late start in the sport. Chestnut is old enough to have sparred with James Toney as an amateur (really...he actually did), but managed not to turn pro until facing Daley more than 20 years later.
Pre-fight pictures don't always tell the story, but look at this one and tell me how you think this fight unfolded.
(Photo Courtesy The Boxing Examiner)
No surprises when the opening bell rang. Daley moved, boxed and, most of all, potshotted Chestnut, whiplashing his head and dropping him more times than I can count. At any point after round one referee John Wylie could have stopped the fight, but he allowed Chestut to absorb percussive shots. My notebook from that night is spattered with droplets of Chestnut's blood.
When Chestnut went down in third Wylie should have ended it. He wobbled to his feet and barely beat the count, but his glassy eyes and quivering legs told everyone in the arena the fight was done.
Everyone except Wylie, who, incredibly, sent Chestnut back to centre ring so Daley could do this:
A spectacular knockout, for sure, but the product of poor matchmaking at best, negligent refereeing at worst. It's not a stretch to say Chestnut could have died that night, pushed back into a fight he had shown he couldn't win, wobbling on unsteady legs to face a young, hungry fighter with one-punch power. A dangerous situation, even by the standards of a bloodsport.
So what does that have to do with MMA in Ontario?
I just laid out two bad decisions and a potentially tragic one, all unfolding within two months of each other and all made by athletic commission officials who have experience with boxing.
If commission officials bungle decisions in a sport with which they're familiar, imagine what would happen if you put the same folks in an MMA event. Or imagine charging this same group with recruiting and training the officials who would oversee non-UFC MMA shows in Ontario.
Would you feel confident the the guy who fights best would win the decision?
Could you say for sure that the referee would know when to step in and stop a fight?
Would you entrust your record, your career and your safety to rookie officials straight out of the Ontario commission's training program?
You probably wouldn't, and neither would I.
It frustrates a lot of fans that Ontario won't join every other major jurisdiction and legalize the fastest-growing sport in the world, but poor officiating adds a layer of risk to an already dangerous game. So until Ontario is willing to invest in quality officiating and limit poor decisions in all combat sports the safest course of action -- for now -- is to stay out of the Octagon.
On Twitter? Follow the Star's Morgan Campbell at http://twitter.com/morganpcampbell