In the third and final part of CBC sports reporter Doug Gelevan's in-depth look into the world of amateur mixed martial arts in Quebec, he discovers that the underground nature of amateur fighting in Quebec may soon be forced into broad daylight.
Jamie McGowan owns Victory Gym and works hard to promote amateur MMA fights in Montreal.
- Part I: MMA and ultimate fighting up among Quebec children
- Part II: Quebec hosts amateur fights not legal elsewhere in Canada
The fights he promotes fall under the authority of a group called the Fédération Québécoise de boxe mixte, or FQBM.
“This sport is growing at a mad pace,” McGowan says.
“It’s not like boxing, it’s not like Muay Thai where there is one event a month or one every two weeks, even. We’re talking two to three events per weekend,” he continues.
Government moves on MMA regulation
On the professional level, the Quebec government has, for years, worked around the law by designating Ultimate Fighting Championship events as boxing matches.
But a new federal law on prize fights passed in June legalized mixed martial arts, placing the responsibility of regulating the sport on provincial governments.
British Columbia in 2012 had already introduced its own legislation to manage MMA, boxing and kickboxing in the province.
At the time of the adoption of Bill S-209 by the Senate, Bob Runciman — the Conservative senator who sponsored the bill — said the new federal law better reflects today’s reality.
'Taekwondo, karate — you don’t see direct government intervention in running those sports.' - Jamie McGowan
“This bill gives provincial regulators the clarity they need to better regulate amateur and professional combative sports, and to protect the health and safety of athletes,” Runciman said in June.
But McGowan says the FQBM and promoters like himself are doing a good job of regulating Quebec’s amateur MMA fights, and would be better suited to managing it than the Quebec government.
“It would be very unfair to MMA if it was,” he says.
“Taekwondo, karate — you don’t see direct government intervention in running those sports.”
Lack of consistency in safety guidelines
CBC News asked Quebec’s education, recreation and sports minister, Marie Malavoy, to comment, but she declined an interview. Her office said it was studying the issue.
In the meantime, amateur fights in the province continue with minimum safety requirements. Most ringside safety guidelines are still at the discretion of the promoter..
FQBM president Fernand Morneau swears the fights his organization is involved with are safe. His organization has been operating for 12 years without recognition from any governing body.
The government has acted a bit like a trusting father, Morneau admits.
McGowan, for his part, says he doesn’t allow people under the age of 18 to fight in bouts, but standards in amateur MMA vary, leading to serious injuries.
“I’ve seen concussions, unconscious people in the ring. We also had some fighters have heart attacks,” says Marc-Antoine Brisebois, chief of operations for the ringside paramedic company, Technisoins.
But while the debate about the sport and how to structure it continues, there’s at least one point all those involved in both the amateur and professional realms of MMA and UFC agree on.
“The sport is popular,” says UFC director of operations Tom Wright. But he believes regulations are necessary.
“The sport is growing. The sport has a very, very strong following and if you don’t provide that kind of oversight and that kind of rigour, it will get driven underground, and at that point, all bets are off.”