Having been fortunate enough to find myself smack in the middle of 55,000 people last Saturday night at Toronto’s Rogers Centre for UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields, many things came to mind:
The sheer magnitude of the first foray into the Big Smoke by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) compared to other shows, including one I took in last summer in Boston. That means crowd size, videoboard size, and everything in between.
The incredible performance by Canadian Mark (The Machine) Hominick in his failed bid to become featherweight champion, a bid that earned him more fans than if he’d won, based solely on his tenacity and heart.
The hero’s welcome for mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Randy (The Natural) Couture, who was knocked out spectacularly in his retirement fight but cheered out of the cage and into the dressing room anyway for all he gave the sport.
The party atmosphere when Canada’s favourite son, Georges (Rush) St-Pierre, took to the cage and eventually defended his welterweight title in sound if unspectacular fashion against an underappreciated challenger on a 15-fight win streak.
A lot for an MMA fan to enjoy
Yes, there was definitely a lot for an MMA fan to enjoy that night.
However it may have been earlier in the day, at a Q&A with the head of UFC Canada, Tom Wright, that brought true interest for enthusiasts of the sport in Newfoundland.
The reason? The sport, in some form or another, may be on its way to The Rock.
It may have been earlier in the day, at a Q&A with the head of UFC Canada, Tom Wright, that brought true interest for enthusiasts of the sport in Newfoundland.
During his time taking fan questions, Wright, a former commissioner of the Canadian Football League who has long been open about his appreciation of Atlantic Canadian sports fans, was approached with a question about opening up Newfoundland to an amateur stream of the sport.
Wright responded with the typical “we’re going everywhere” that has become the mantra for his company since UFC president Dana White coined it a few years back, noting conversations he’s had with representatives from several provinces to this point.
“We’re going everywhere.”
Unfortunately, Newfoundland wasn’t explicitly on the list already. However Wright jumped all over the province when it was mentioned, and was clearly excited at the prospect of helping out however he could. He even went so far as to exchange phone numbers with a fan from Newfoundland who had queried him on the prospect of the sport hitting our hardened shores.
At this stage, with Ontario now regulating the sport, the hardest part seems to be over. Canada’s most populous province was stoutly opposed to MMA until it realized the positive economic impact, proven safety record, and sheer volume of athletes and fans. No sane human being could turn a blind eye, and the sport was regulated.
Now people in Newfoundland have to hope the same process happens here.
The biggest issue at this stage? There really isn’t a regulatory body in Newfoundland for MMA. The Council for Amateur Sport Kickboxing (CASK) makes a lot of sense as a governing body, as they work in conjunction with Kickboxing Newfoundland and Labrador (KBNL) to promote amateur kickboxing already, but officials have suggested that MMA provides different hurdles due to the stigma that’s long been attached to it.
Not to say they’re opposed to regulating amateur events – in fact they’ve got the groundwork in place with rules outlined and competitive streams being finalized – but they won’t really know what they’ve got until the first two amateur competitors touch gloves in the ring. From there it’s likely to be a feeling out process that may take a while to iron out.
Still, even that has to be seen as a positive for Newfoundland MMA enthusiasts. The sport has come a long way since Royce Gracie was dominating bare-knuckle combat in 1993, and the show in Toronto was a culmination of that.
With Ontario in play, amateur councils getting things moving, and the biggest entity in the sport acknowledging Newfoundland as a place they’d like to help with regulation, one has to think amateur MMA could be getting a foothold on the island. That’s great news for athletes and fans alike.