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Who Is Calling The Shots On MMA In Ontario?

His name may not ring a bell to the average Ontarian.  But amongst the cauliflower-eared ground-and-pounders in Mixed Martial Arts gyms, and on fight-obsessed chat-boards and online forums dedicated to the brutal beauty of guillotine and triangle chokes, the name Ken Hayashi stirs the collective fighting spirit.

As Ontario Athletic Commissioner, many believe the fate, or ill-fate, of MMA in Ontario is in Hayashi’s hands.  

Excluding certain professional and amateur boxing cards, and some forms of kickboxing, Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal Code deems prizefighting illegal.  Many provinces have made exceptions to include MMA under the legal umbrella.   A successful UFC fight card was staged in Montreal on April 19, and UFC president Dana White has stressed that he hopes to bring future events to Toronto.  

For now, it doesn’t seem likely, and a common perception is that it’s Hayashi’s strict interpretation of the Criminal Code that is preventing the sport from taking off and spreading roots in Ontario.

That commonly held belief was refuted on Friday by the Ministry of Consumer Services’ Stephen Puddister, Issues & Media Relations Analyst.

“The Athletics Commissioner has no role in the debate,” he told CityNews.ca.  

“The Athletics Commissioner licences professional boxing and kickboxing events.  He is appointed under the Athletics Control Act and is responsible for assisting the Minister of Consumer Services to administer the Act and its regulations.  The regulation under the Act does not permit the Athletics Commissioner to licence Mixed Martial Arts events.  It is up to the Government, and not the Athletics Commissioner, to pass regulation governing MMA.”

And according to Premier Dalton McGuinty, bringing MMA events to Ontario isn’t on the current agenda, despite the infusion of cash a UFC card would bring to the local economy.

“It’s just not a priority for us at this point,” McGuinty said earlier in the week. “We have higher priorities when it comes to developing … jobs and strengthening the economy.”  

Puddister fielded questions that were initially directed to Hayashi, maintaining that the province hasn’t ruled out future fight cards.

“We know MMA is growing in popularity, and more and more Ontarians, especially young people, are following the sport…We have an open mind to doing so in the future, but right now it’s not a priority,” he said, reiterating McGuinty’s stance.

“We would be happy to hear from all Ontarians, including athletes, coaches and others about MMA,” he stressed.

“We’ll continue to watch and follow MMA, and our government will continue to focus on issues that matter to Ontarians, like creating jobs and getting the economy back on track, building better schools, and providing high quality health care.”

If you would like to share your feelings with the province about Mixed Martial Arts, email consumer@ontario.ca

michael.talbot@citynews.rogers.com