Without a UFC event this year, the MMA community in Toronto remains focused and strong.
Jason Gaudette has been involved with Mixed Martial Arts since he was 19 years old and he’s now the general manager of Xtreme Couture in Etobicoke, one of North America’s largest fitness and MMA centres.
Xtreme Couture was founded by Randy Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer, and one of the two fighters to win a title in two different weight classes. Couture’s first gym is located in Las Vegas, where he lives. In Toronto, Xtreme Couture has 5,000 members between locations and 20 MMA instructors.
“Boxing, muay thai and jiu jitsu draw the biggest crowds, followed by kick boxing and wrestling,” says Gaudette, standing in the club. “After the first UFC here (UFC 174 in 2011, where Canadian Georges St. Pierre defeated Jake Shields), the interest in MMA in Toronto grew, absolutely. Kids became more involved. Now there’s an annual event, so there’s always people.”
This year, however, there will be no UFC event in the city. UFC 178 was supposed to take place in late September at the Air Canada Centre – as it has been for the past three years – but due to the increasing popularity of the main event (Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier), it was moved to Las Vegas.
Injury forces Jones to withdraw
A couple of months after the move, it was announced Jones would step down from the fight, since he was injured, changing the main event to a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Chris Cariaso.
Gaudette notices constant flow in the MMA community. Sometimes the interest for martial arts starts early. He believes it’s very important for kids and teenagers to learn and appreciate exercising.
“It gives them a sense of fulfillment by moving up the ranks,” he says. “They know they are accomplishing things and want to set the bar higher from there. Just because people want to do MMA doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be a fighter. It’s great exercise.”
“There are also lots of grappling tournaments for young kids, so they can pick that up, as opposed to karate, for example. There’s more variety. Not every kid wants to play hockey or baseball, although they should be taught to be active and not sit around with their cellphone or at a computer all day.”
Gaudette’s outlook on the fighting community is a positive one.
“MMA is continually becoming more acceptable in society,” he says. “People used to look at it only as violence but they are starting to realize now it’s a lot safer than, say, a sport like boxing.”
With boxing, the objective of each fight is to strike your opponent until only one stands. In MMA, however, fighters can try to submit their opponent in addition to strikes.
“The submission part of MMA is exactly for people not to get hurt,” says Gaudette. “As long as someone taps out during a position of vulnerability, no one gets hurt.
“It’s a good way to prove your skills versus someone else without having to break their nose.”