UFC remains optimistic

BRETT CLARKSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Maybe the UFC isn't KO'd in Ontario just yet.

The body shot Premier Dalton McGuinty delivered Wednesday to the Ultimate Fighting Championship isn’t a knock-out blow, said UFC officials, who maintained the two parties are still working together to get mixed martial arts (MMA) legalized in the province.

"We are working very closely with the various levels of Canadian government, including the province of Ontario, to ensure the highest levels of safety for all of mixed martial arts participants," said a statement from UFC vice-president Marc Ratner.

'We respect the fact that the premier has indicated that MMA regulation is not a top priority, however we are confident that our efforts in educating Canadian officials including members of the provincial cabinet will eventually result in regulation of the sport in Ontario," Ratner said.

UFC's Ontario lawyer, Noble Chummar, told The Sun that "we're not giving up" efforts to get MMA sanctioned in the province.

"My client, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, continues to be optimistic," Chummar said. "The fact that the Premier said that it is not a priority is not too concerning for us because we realize that regulating mixed martial arts is probably not a priority in a province as big as Ontario."

Chummar, a partner at the Bay St. firm Cassels Brock, is the Toronto point man for UFC as it strives to get a foothold in the lucrative Ontario market.

Cassels Brock has been retained by the Las Vegas-based UFC to lobby the Ontario government to get MMA sanctioned in Ontario. The firm is chaired by former Liberal premier David Peterson.

Chummar's comments Wednesday to The Sun were the first following McGuinty's remarks that sanctioning MMA in Ontario was not a priority for the government.

Referencing the upcoming UFC 113 event slated for May 8 in Montreal, Chummar said McGuinty's apparent reluctance won't deter the UFC's bullish strategy on Ontario.

"UFC will be in Canada definitely in May for the Montreal event and we’re working on sorting out meetings with the Ontario government. I generally handle most of the meetings with the Ontario government and I will continue to do that as I’ve been doing for the last several months," Chummar said.

Chummar speculated McGuinty may have just meant that when it comes to other big-picture items like sagging economy, sanctioning MMA falls relatively low on the list of government priorities.

UFC top brass, including Ratner and president Dana White, were en route to Sydney Wednesday for this weekend’s UFC debut in Australia.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun in January, Ratner said that if Toronto were to host a UFC event, it would likely be the biggest-ever in UFC history.

Ratner said that on a per-capita basis, Toronto and Ontario are the top markets in the world for UFC pay-per-view TV buys.

According to an economic impact statement done by consulting firm HR&A for Zuffa LLC, the parent company of UFC, about 42% of fans who went to Montreal in April 2008 to watch the first-ever UFC in Canada were from Ontario. The study said that Ontarians spent $1.4 million in Montreal that weekend.

Tickets for UFC 113, the third UFC event to be staged in Montreal, go on sale Thursday.

Joel Gerson, owner of the Revolution MMA gyms in Toronto and Thornhill, said MMA fans in Toronto have learned to be patient when it comes to UFC.

Still, he said, McGuinty’s statement is a let down.

“It’s disappointing, obviously,” Gerson said. “It’s obviously not a positive step. You can hope for the best and hope he’s doing the opposite, that he’s quietly doing stuff behind closed doors and all of a sudden he’s going to spring it on us and it will be legal.”


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