Wednesday, May 14, 2008
You know a sport causing a buzz when an arts weekly lowers itself to write an article on it (because unlike the latest emo hotness, which clearly has huge cultural importance, sports are so…proletarian, a state of being that’s good in theory, but distasteful in practice, to those that publish your local left-wing rag). So it was a bit of a shock to see a mixed martial arts combatant on the cover of Toronto’s Now Magazine this week.
Although there was several errors in the article along with a ridiculous and condescending portrayal of the Six Nations native territory (where the author uses last month’s Rumble on the Rez MMA event to frame his story), it does provide a good overview of the ongoing efforts to legalize the sport in Ontario.
Having previously worked on Six Nations, it’s also a story I have written about a great deal in the past 12-months. I’ve sat ringside at previous events held on Six Nations, covering the event as both a sporting contest and as a news story.
Before continuing, this disclosure: I’m not much of a fan of MMA. But, not for the reasons you might think. I appreciate the ugly beauty of combat sports. However, when it comes to MMA, truthfully, I find it a bit dull. There is too much rolling around on the floor, not enough punching and kicking.
Still, it’s clear that Ontario Athletic Commissioner Ken Hayashi is a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to MMA. Worse, his inability to properly react to the massive popularity of the sport is doing nothing but drive it underground. The best case scenario is that legally gray fights are taking place on reserves.
The worse? The abandoned train station at the edge of town. Knock twice and ask for Justin. BYOB.
The events on Six Nations are well run. Proper safety protocols are followed and, although likely a bit naïve, event organizer Bill Monture is sincere in his love of the sport and desire to grow it on native territories in North America. But fighters at them are still running the risk of being arrested and it’s hard to imagine their insurance companies being too excited by their participation in Rumble on the Rez III.
Hayashi has insisted that MMA be recognized as an amateur sport prior to it being sanctioned at a professional level. Toronto’s Marco Antico, who is involved with the Ontario Mixed Martial Arts Association and the Canadian Mixed Martial Arts Association, is tirelessly working to establish an amateur infrastructure to satisfy those requirements. Antico is a sharp cookie. He’ll get the job done.
The question is this: will Hayashi live up to his promise? Although he doesn’t have a direct role in approving amateur MMA—a different government body oversees amateur sport—there is a feeling that his influence extends beyond his jurisdiction. Beyond that, based on Hayashi’s barley hidden disdain for the sport, it seems farfetched to think that the UFC is coming to Ontario anytime soon.