UFC battles for toe-hold in Toronto

A fire has been lit in the hearts of Toronto’s mixed martial arts community.

Thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s battle with the Ontario government, trainers, fighters and fans alike are hopeful that a ban on prize-fighting will be abolished.

Currently, Ontarians are free to train in mixed martial arts but they must travel to other provinces to compete. Premier Dalton McGuinty meanwhile has said UFC fighting is not a priority for his government.

Claude Patrick is program coordinator and trainer at Mississauga’s Elite Training Centre.  With over 10 years experience in teaching martial arts, Patrick believes the ban is due to be lifted.

“It’s not like the old days where it was a human cock-fight; it’s very much a sport,” Patrick said. “It’s very safe as well. There’s medical requirements that are very stringent, testing is very stringent, so they’re always on top of the ball with that.”

Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, believes medical checks before a fight are only the beginning, saying that brain injuries such as concussions are not always noticeable.

According to Dr. Tator, 19 out of 20 concussions do not result in loss of consciousness, so it is hard to tell if participants have suffered any brain injury during a fight.

“People at the ring side should be knowledgeable in early signs of a concussion,” he said. “When a combatant appears dazed, the fight should be stopped.”

He said there is a growing fear that athletes in impact sports such as  mixed martial arts will end up with dementia.

“It’s not just the immediate injuries that we are worried about, but it’s the late effects when excellent athletes end up not remembering what they had for breakfast,” Tator said.

Brain injuries in all impact sports are a serious concern, which is why both mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti and Claude Patrick insist that the sport is no more dangerous to participants than any other.

“I’m not sure what the real concern is with, the event because they allow boxing, they allow football,” Patrick said. “In all these athletic endeavours you can get hurt and everyone that is entering is a grown adult and decided that’s what is best for themselves.”

Mammoliti believes that the sport would not only satisfy fans entertainment needs but also bring money into Toronto.

“By bringing it to the city, you would effectively be creating tourism.” Mammoliti said. “People would come to the city and watch the sport here. There’s a huge following.”

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Marc Ratner, UFC’s vice- president of regulatory affairs, said that fans in Ontario spend more money on pay-per-view for UFC events then any of their other markets in the world.

The president of UFC, Dana White has said in several interviews that “Toronto is the mecca” for mixed martial arts. But, having a huge fan base fails to convince those opposed.

Dr. Tator will not support any MMA event until proper research into the sport’s safety has been done.

“We are wise to go slowly on introducing this.” Tator said. “There are enough brain-injured people around that we don’t need more as a society.”

But the UFC and trainers such as Patrick have Mammoliti stick by their side.

“I think Premier (Dalton) McGuinty is blowing up a stack right now… There’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t come to Ontario,” Mammoliti said.

“If I am or become mayor of the city, it will come to Toronto.”