Two things are going to happen between now and the first ever UFC show in Ontario on April 30 at the Rogers Centre.
Either the UFC people are going to go through the same rigmarole that their boxing brethren have gone through in dealing with the Ontario athletics commission, and in that case will undoubtedly be ready to commit themselves to an insane asylum.
Or, they’ll get preferential treatment from the commission.
It will be one or the other.
I can’t see it happening any other way.
For years, Ontario Athletics Commissioner Ken Hayashi has been the bane of professional boxing promoters in this province. Before and after virtually every professional boxing show, the promoter in question has lashed out at Hayashi, accusing him of trying to run the sport into the ground.
After an October pro card at Casino Rama, featuring world-ranked cruiserweight Troy Ross, promoter Robert Waterman, who has put on successful boxing shows all over the world, told the Toronto Sun that he almost walked away from that event because Hayashi was killing him with unfair and unreasonable regulations and demands.
“If Ken is working with the same rules, his own rules, for MMA, that he’s doing for boxing, there will never be an MMA fight in Ontario. Never, ever,” said Waterman at the time.
Well, it seems Waterman is wrong. The UFC announced its first show for Ontario will be April 30. But — and this is a big but — nobody has actually started putting a UFC show together yet. And when they do — if Hayashi is still the commissioner — it will be interesting to see what happens. Boxing people can’t stand Hayashi. They claim he’s gone out of his way to put them, and the sport, out of business.
Mixed martial arts, specifically the UFC, haven’t yet had the “pleasure” of dealing with Hayashi in terms of putting on an actual card. But UFC president Dana White was adamant on Tuesday that he is not worried in the least about the notoriously strict Ontario commission and its top-dog Hayashi — pointing out that UFC has already beaten “incredible, amazing obstacles” to get to where it is today, which is one of the fastest-growing, most-lucrative pro sports in the world.
“We weren’t allowed on pay per view when we bought this company (in 2001),” said the outspoken White. “Porn was on pay per view. But we weren’t allowed on pay per view. Look at us now.”
Both White and UFC Canada Director of Operations Tom Wright, who met a group of Toronto Sun writers for a luncheon meeting on Tuesday, insist that they haven’t lost any sleep over the Ontario commission’s notoriously strict medical regulations.
Strict regulations is what they expect.
“In almost 30-year history of the UFC, there’s never been a death or a serious injury and I believe it’s because we go over the top with medicals,” said White. “This is a very safe sport when it’s done the right way and I’m actually a big fan of going over the top medically.
When you know you have two healthy guys that are stepping into the Octagon and you’ve got a good referee who stops the fight when it needs to be stopped and then you send them to the hospital again to get checked, this is 100% an incredibly safe sport.”
That’s all well and good, but it’s not just strict adherence to medical regulations that have turned boxing promoters sour. It’s their insistence that the province simply does not want “dirty” sports like boxing operating in Ontario, and that’s why, boxing people charge, Hayashi has regulated the sport to where it is almost dead now. There are far fewer boxing cards and fewer fighters operating in Ontario than there were years ago.
However, there is talk — and it’s just talk at this point — that the province will bend over backwards for the mixed martial arts crowd, specifically the UFC, because of all the money the UFC can make for the province. The Rogers show alone is expected to generate millions.
If that turns out to be the case — if the province treats the UFC better than it has pro boxing — expect the boxing community to go ballistic.
Fair is fair.
White seems to have little sympathy for the boxing crowd — pointing out that the sport has plunged in popularity, and not just in Ontario, for a reason.
“I come from the boxing world, the most dirty, ugly, nasty, corrupt ... I could keep going on about the boxing business,” he said.
“And probably some of my worst experiences in boxing was in the amateurs. The most dirty, corrupt place ever. When I came over to mixed martial arts, it was such a breath of fresh air.
“People just don’t want to sit around and watch a 12 round boxing match with two guys jabbing,” added White.
“UFC is three rounds, everything’s fast, you can punch, kick, knee, elbow, slam to the ground, do submissions. It’s the Now Generation.”
Now Generation or not, something’s gotta give for the UFC to stay in Ontario for the long run.
The popularity of the sport speaks for itself. But is the commission going to treat mixed martial arts better than they have boxing? That’s the million dollar question.