The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is moving ahead with plans to hold a major “numbered” event in Vancouver this summer, a UFC official confirmed Thursday after city council gave approval for professional MMA.
Council voted 6-3 in favour of sanctioning mixed martial arts contests on a two-year pilot basis.
A card is to be held at GM Place and could generate up to $4.7 million in spinoff economic benefits.
“We have a lot of fans here and the sport is very popular here,” said Lawrence Epstein, a Las Vegas-based UFC executive vice-president. “I think you could bet on seeing more than one event in two years in Vancouver.”
UFC president Dana White, who was not at council, tweeted his excitement.
“Another one down!” White posted on Twitter. “Thanks to everyone in Vancouver who helped. See you in 2010.”
Councillors Ellen Woodsworth, Andrea Reimer and Raymond Louie voted against the motion.
A former school trustee, Reimer said she couldn’t vote for a sport that marketed itself with violence and desensitized children to fighting.
“We’re not trying to hide,” Epstein said afterwards. “This is a combat sport. It’s not badminton or tennis.”
Other concerns included indemnifying the city against lawsuits and the fact that MMA is a legal grey area.
Prizefights (with the exception of boxing) are banned under the Criminal Code of Canada. This is the reason that MMA is banned in Ontario.
Conservative MP James Moore, who urged council to embrace MMA “with both hands,” said the federal government has no problem with MMA. The Tories introduced Bill C-31 in May (which is still in first reading) to change the code’s dated language around the sport.
As well, a letter to the city from B.C.’s Attorney General Mike de Jong gave tacit support for the sport.
In it, de Jong said he would not “criticize” the approach Montreal has taken in hosting its two (and soon to be three) UFC fights.
As part of the motion, Mayor Gregor Robertson will write to the federal and provincial governments to clarify the legality of MMA.