Mixed martial arts fans are in for a rocking new year.
Ontario will begin accepting applications from promoters to hold professional MMA bouts in the province after Jan. 1, QMI Agency has learned.
Fighters who want to be licensed in Ontario can begin applying as of that date, too.
Consumer Services Minister John Gerretsen wrote in a letter to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White that the province has established rules for MMA fighting in Ontario based on an industry-standard New Jersey regulatory regime.
The minister is encouraging the massively popular UFC to bring its events to Ontario.
"As you know, MMA is increasing in popularity here in Ontario and around the world," says Gerretsen's letter, which was obtained by the Sun. "Communities that host MMA events will reap the benefits of an economic boost."
The provincial government expects that a major UFC event in Ontario would draw up to 30,000 fans and generate up to $6 million for the local economy, including cash from hotel rooms rentals, restaurant meal expenditures and retail purchases.
Premier Dalton McGuinty announced in August that his government would officially sanction and regulate MMA, permitting professional bouts to be fought within the province's boundaries.
At the time, Tom Wright, director of the UFC's Canadian operations, said the organization was prepared to hold three or four global pay per view events in major cities across Canada every year.
While he stressed that no decisions had been made, Wright said in August that the UFC would probably take its first Ontario event to the Toronto Rogers Centre.
Other smaller MMA promoters have also expressed keen interest in holding events in the province, which is home to legions of loyal fans.
In order for professional MMA matches to be held legally in Ontario, the sport must be regulated by the province.
Gerretsen says in his letter that the current licensing and medical regime for boxing and kickboxing will apply to the MMA.
Ontario's Athletics Commissioner will ensure that promoters and fighters are licensed and that safety standards are in place for any match held in the province.
"While MMA events are expected to provide local economic benefit, safety is our priority," Gerretsen says. "Ontario is adopting the same rules for professional MMA as are applied in the State of New Jersey, which are the most widely used across North America."
According to the website of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, mixed martial artists are allowed to tap out - literally by touching the floor or by verbally notifying the referee - unlike boxers or kick-boxers.
The New Jersey rules call for a mouthpiece, gloves and other protection.
There are a long list of fouls, including head butting, eye gouging, spitting, biting, hair pulling, groin attacks, strikes to the back of the head, heel kicks to kidneys and throat strikes.
New Jersey was originally reluctant to sanction mixed martial arts because fighters were not separated into different weight classes and could fight more than one match a day. However, promoters began developing formal rules and regulations.
Like boxing, the new Ontario rules for MMA fighters divide them into weight classes - up to 118 pounds, 119-130 pounds, 131-183 pounds, 184-200 pounds and over 201 pounds.
The new rules also limit the difference in weight between fighters to a few pounds.
The province's new regulatory regime is to kick in Jan. 1.
"Our regulations ensure the safety of participants, the enjoyment of fans and an economic boost that helps create jobs," Gerretsen says in his letter to White. "I encourage you to take advantage of these new regulations and an active fan base and apply to stage a professional MMA event in an Ontario community in the new year."Ontario's MMA rules
** Legal definition of MMA: A fight where blows are struck in whole or in part with the hand, elbows, knees or feet.
** If the commissioner believes a person is unfit to fight because of an injury, he can suspend the person's license or permit to take part until found medically fit.
** An MMA fighter must officially weigh in the day before the event, unlike boxing where the fighter weighs in the day of the event.
** An MMA fighter must undergo a medical exam on the weigh-in day.
** If found medically unfit, on drugs or alcohol, a fighter cannot take part in a match.
** A fighter loses the purse if medically unfit, fails to appear or, in the opinion of the ringside medical practitioner, is not in proper physical or mental condition to take part.
** The province receives 5% of gross receipts (It's 2% in boxing).
--Antonella Artuso, QMI Agency