Mixed martial arts isn’t returning to Vancouver; at least not yet.
Council members voted against having the Vancouver Athletic Commission sanction MMA events Thursday. Instead it has asked the province to provide the sanctioning body for the sport just as it did in September 2007 when MMA became effectively banned in the city. Events had been held prior to that.
The council met to discuss a request by the commission to take charge of sanctioning events in Vancouver. But it deflected the request to the provincial level until it could gather more information on the sport’s safety and economic impacts on the city.
Only one council member, NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton, voted in favour of allowing the sport in the city, insisting on its safety and suggesting it could have a positive economic benefit.
“What happened today is we turned down a big economic opportunity for the city of Vancouver,” Anton told Sportsnet. “We’ve been considering the issue of mixed martial arts for some time now in this council. … We have a body in place, our athletic commission, a volunteer group, and we have a process in place and I think we are now ready. I think the sport is developed far enough (and) the rules have come along.”
Anton added that when the city hosts major events, such as Sunday’s Juno Awards, extra money is spent on restaurants and hotels.
“(MMA) is like the Canucks — it’s sports and it’s entertainment,” Anton added. “And it’s a big economic boost for the city when these big events come along.
“We turned that away today and we sent it back to our staff to have another look. Who knows when it will come back again? I was really sorry, I thought that the work had gone into it, that we were now in a position that we should proceed.”
On Wednesday the Vancouver Sun had printed an open letter from Marc Ratner, vice-president of government and regulatory affairs for Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s largest MMA promotion, to the council imploring it to allow events to be held in the city.
Ratner said the UFC, which has held over 100 events in venues across the U.S., in Canada and overseas, would love to hold a show in Vancouver. He attempted to assure the council that the safety of fighters is taken very seriously.
“Every UFC event is sanctioned by the local athletic commission in whatever state or province we are holding the event in, which means all proper medical procedures are followed before, after, and during an event,” Ratner wrote. “The medical standards that are applied to boxing are also followed by the UFC for each and every event, and I am proud to say that in the history of the organization, there has never been a death in the Octagon or an injury more serious than a broken arm.”
(The UFC holds its events in an octagonal shaped cage — trademarked the Octagon — rather than a rope-enclosed ring.)
Ratner, who previously held the post of Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director for 14 years, also attempted to dispel a myth that the fighters who take part in such events are not properly trained. He explained that all fighters who compete are well-prepared athletes. And he referred to the fact that UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre earned Sportsnet’s most recent Athlete of the Year award.
MMA is currently permitted in a number of provinces, including Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Ontario remains closed to the sport, though it’s another province for which the UFC is pursuing to institute sanctioning.