Ontario is set to sanction and regulate mixed martial arts, Sportsnet has learned.
A source confirmed that the Dalton McGuinty government has made the move to make the increasingly popular sport legal in the province, paving the way for professional events to be held within its borders starting in 2011.
The news was confirmed Saturday on the website for the province's Ministry of Consumer Services.
"Ontario is taking steps to allow professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events in the province," the release said.
The same rules for professional MMA that are used across North America -- the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts -- would be adopted by Ontario's athletic commission, which will oversee events. Like professional boxing and kick-boxing, which are already permitted, MMA would fall under Ontario's Athletics Control Act.
According to the release, a major MMA event in Ontario "could attract up to 30,000 fans and generate up to $6 million in local economic activity."
The news represents a change of position for the government as Premier McGuinty recently said regulating MMA wasn't a priority. But money appears to be a motive for this reversal by the cash-strapped province, which is running a deficit of almost $20 billion, according to THE CANADIAN PRESS.
The health and security of the competitors remains a priority, however.
"Our government has been monitoring MMA for some time. We know that the sport has evolved and that Ontarians want to see it here," said Minister of Consumer Services Sophia Aggelonitis. "My goal is to make sure we have the tools to keep the competitors safe, and provide an economic boost to communities that want to host professional MMA events."
Here's a piece of trivia: which city drives the most traffic to this site? Answer: Toronto. The level of passion for MMA in that city and the entire province cannot be overstated. And this isn't just good for the UFC. Fertile MMA soil like Ontario is good for mid-major or local promotions as well, who desperately rely on live gate attendance to monetize their operations. Obviously the possibilities are endless in terms of how big the shows can be here at venues like the Rogers Centre, but one shouldn't lose sight of how profitable the smaller shows can be as well. That's important for MMA's development as a sport and as a feeding ground for up-and-coming talent.
The UFC's relentless push to make this a reality deserves a hearty round of applause. All of us at BloodyElbow.com commend the UFC and recognize we owe them a debt of gratitude. Of course, I'm personally delighted to see this:
The organization also retained the services of lawyer and lobbyist Noble Chummar, a partner at the Toronto law firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell, who played a significant role in educating and promoting the sport, which helped bring the government officials to Saturday's announced decision.
Knowing how to pull the levers of government machinery and having the capital to do so can bring about big changes. We are fortunate enough to have an organization both capable and willing to do so in our lifetime.