MMA and ultimate fighting up among Quebec children

Part 1 of 3 in CBC Montreal's exclusive series on mixed martial arts by TV sports reporter Doug Gelevan.

How young is too young to fight?

Mixed martial arts is growing in popularity among Quebec youth. 3:38

The popularity of mixed martial arts is growing in Quebec, and the fighters are getting younger and younger.

Ten years ago, there were only a handful of gyms training amateur fighters; now there are more than 80 Montreal-area gyms teaching the sport — and a CBC News investigation discovered virtually all of them teach children under the age of 10 to fight.

This growing popularity presents today's parents with a new challenge: how to teach a generation of children eager to train and become the next Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star.

How young is too young to fight?

Mixed martial arts, or MMA, was created to test the skills of experts in different disciplines to answer questions like, "Can a karate black belt beat a jujitsu master?"

The idea led to the creation of global brand UFC, and new international superstars were forged by the new sport.

At nine years old, Christopher Rea may seem a bit young to be learning how to put someone in a strangle hold.

But father Tony Rea couldn't be more pleased.

“I would sit him on my lap and we would watch it," he says of the sport.

"Obviously he wouldn't understand, but for me it was like a bonding type of thing with the MMA and he was having fun and I was having fun, and the friends started drifting off, and me and him we kept on watching it together,” Rea continues.

Rea says people close to him expressed concerns about enrolling Christopher in MMA at such a young age but he believes the sport can be responsibly taught to children. 

"I have family members who are like, 'No, this is too violent, get your kid away from this.' But if you can explain it to your kids not to hit or when it's time to hit, I mean you can separate the two," he says.

MMA takes hold in Quebec

Georges St-Pierre is one of the sport's biggest stars, making him a homegrown hero for thousands of Quebec youth.

St-Pierre fights in an octagon-shaped ring, where the goal is to beat your opponent into submission and almost anything goes.

Children like Christopher are part of a growing group of young people, the "Georges St-Pierre generation," who watch and admire him.

"Fighting is in our DNA, you know. Way before a basketball was swished into a net or a puck was shot into a net, you know two individuals started fighting and people stood around and watched," said UFC commissioner Tom Wright.

Teaching responsible fighting 

David Guigui is a jujitsu master who recently opened a gym in Laval. He says parents have to be careful when selecting a trainer for their kids.

"Since there is no regulation, it's kind of hard to say who is qualified and who is not qualified to teach mixed martial arts," Guigui says.

In his opinion, some moves should not be taught to children.

"I've seen very, very irresponsible uses of submissions, and I mean, as a parent that terrifies me," says Guigui.

He maintains that it's critical to properly introduce these young fighters to MMA because by as early as age 12, the sport gets very serious and children could get hurt.

Tune in Tuesday, Sept. 24 and Wednesday, Sept. 25 for parts two and three of the series.


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