This is a good time for mixed martial arts in Western Canada, especially for new endeavours. The UFC is coming to Vancouver in June. The WEC makes its Canadian debut a week later.
And Friday a brand new promotion hits Edmonton headed by someone with deep UFC ties.
Elaine McCarthy, wife of legendary MMA referee (Big) John McCarthy and the UFC’s very first event co-ordinator, kicks off her first stint as promoter with the debut of Let’s Get It On! MMA (LGIO MMA).
Friday’s event at the River Cree Resort and Casino is the first of nine, alternating between that venue and the Casino Lac-Leamy in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, featuring up-and-coming Canadian fighters in two different weight classes competing in two tournaments that will unfold between now and December.
Each month the promotion will go back and forth between the two host locations, as 155- and 170-pound fighters from Western Canada compete against other — while fighters from the East do the same — culminating with the finals on Dec. 10 in Edmonton, where the winners from the respective regions in the two divisions will face off to determine two champions. Friday’s show will feature the eight first-round bouts in the West region of the 170-pound tournament.
“Our thought was to start with young guys who are up-and-comers and give them a platform to grow along with the promotion,” McCarthy said.
She has spent the better portion of a year putting this project together, working with a team that includes The Fight Network founder Mike Garrow, who serves as executive producer, and Rob Dorfman, who has worked as producer for the first seven seasons of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Bellator matchmaker Matt Stansell was also hired to put matchups together.
After visiting a number of places and meeting with many people north of the border, she said it only made sense making this a Canadian venture.
“The fans in Canada are amazing. They love fighting. Obviously hockey is the No. 1 sport , but I think fighting is a close second. If you look at the U.S. we have so many sports and leagues, between the colleges and pros, it’s really hard to get anyone interested in anything but the UFC. Canadian fans, they just want good fights, and that’s exactly what we plan on giving to them.”
While MMA tournaments currently exist in other promotions, such as Dream in Japan and the relatively new Bellator Fighting Championship in the U.S., hers features a twist. McCarthy said she perceived a natural East vs. West rivalry in Canada, which she felt would also fit well with her vision of the tournament format.
“I was looking for these young guys to be backed by their city, their province and their region,” McCarthy added. “Everything is about growing — growing the fighters and making them known and respected for what they do.”
McCarthy’s experience in the MMA industry goes back a good 17 years as she was part of the sport’s inception into North America in 1993 when the UFC held its first show in Denver. Her husband John, who would become the promotion’s most senior referee working every show from UFC 2 to UFC 31, was training with the world-renowned Gracies at the time and she was brought in by the UFC to do all their travel arrangements.
“I have to be honest; at the first show I was not familiar with (MMA) at all,” McCarthy said. “I was sitting ringside and (Teila) Tuli’s tooth went flying right by my face (after a kick to the head by Gerard Gordeau) and I got up and said what did I get myself into?
“But as time went on, I’ve become a diehard fan. I love the sport; it’s amazing, I love watching the evolution of it as it grows. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s still in its infancy. We still have such a long way to go with it.”
She has since padded her resume; currently, she is also program coordinator of COMMAND, the only nationally recognized training and certification program for MMA referees and officials, and runs one of the biggest MMA gyms in southern California.
The sport has obviously changed tremendously since Royce Gracie won three fights, all by submission, on one night to win the eight-man tournament at UFC 1. At the time there were few rules, no judges and no sanctioning restrictions on fighting multiple times on the same night.
“Obviously the tournament format of the past can’t be done today,” McCarthy said. “But we’ll turn it into individual shows and I think we can get people interested in each fighter as they move on in the tournament.”
Friday’s event will be headlined by a non-tournament bout between middleweights Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald and Matt Horwich, both veterans and former UFC fighters. She felt it was important to have a couple of fighters who are already well-known and established to promote the very first show, and MacDonald is very popular and a big draw in Edmonton.
“Until (our) name gets out there, and people start getting really behind the tournament format and these up-and-coming guys, of course it makes sense to have a main event fight. My hope is down the road people are really getting behind whoever their guy is local area and that’s going to be the main draw.”
Weigh-ins for the event take place Thursday at 6 p.m. MT at the River Cree Resort and Casino. To see the fight card, click here.
NOTES: The first season will feature welterweights and lightweights, but next year they plan to go with other weight classes. “I think 170 is a good market for Canada. And I love the 155. I think it’s my favourite division.” … The two tournament champions will also earn contracts to fight on the Challenger Series of the Strikeforce MMA promotion, thanks to a deal struck last month between the two companies. Veteran fighter Dan Henderson will make a special guest appearance at the show Friday as part of that deal. … The name of the promotion plays off her husband’s signature delivery of “Let’s get it on!” he uses to signal the start of fights he referees. … One of the most common questions McCarthy has gotten since the promotion was announced was whether her husband would ref any of the fights. He won’t; in fact, he has not been involved with the undertaking at all. “He’s a referee and he’s worked commissions all over the world and that’s what he loves to do. If he involved himself with a promotion it could be looked at as a possible conflict of interest.” That was important, considering John was the referee for last Saturday’s Strikeforce middleweight title bout between Henderson and belt-holder Jake Shields. Henderson, who could have been appearing in Edmonton as new champion, lost by unanimous decision.