Amateur mixed martial arts fighters as young as 12 years of age in Quebec can get into the octagon to compete for the entertainment of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of paying customers.
Montreal's Club Soda holds amateur fight nights, where members of the "George St-Pierre generation" cut their teeth in the world of MMA.
The events are a huge draw for young fighters like 14-year-old Gustave Lesage, who trains three days a week while waiting for his chance to get in the cage.
Amateur fighters per province (with at least one fight in 2013)
REST OF CANADA: 397
- SK: 65
- NB: 38
- BC: 112
- AB: 74
- NS: 15
- MAN: 15
- ONT: 70
Amateur events per province (2012)
REST OF CANADA: 40
- BC: 19
- NB: 6
- SK: 15
Amateur events per province (As of Aug. 31, 2013)
REST OF CANADA: 24
- BC: 10
- NB: 3
- SK: 11
“I like all the martial arts in one fight and I choose the MMA,” says Gustave.
In some provinces, like Ontario, Gustave would be out of luck, because the province bans amateur events.
Meanwhile, Mathieu Plante, a journalist for the MMA website Tapology, says that in Quebec, virtually no one is turned away from fighting.
“Sometimes we have 12-year-old kids fighting in a cage, punching each other in the face, so here it's allowed to have exhibition fights with kids. And some people have a problem with that. I mean, two kids are fighting each other in a cage in front of like 500* people. In other provinces, sometimes they don't allow that,” Plante continues.
According to Plante, fights can be violent and potentially dangerous. He says they're sanctioned by a group that is not recognized by the government.
“Maybe you will have some injuries, so don't be surprised if he comes out the ring with a broken finger, broken arm, broken feet. It's probable,” says Marc-Antoine Brisebois, chief of operations for the ringside paramedic company, Technisoins.
Despite the risks, more than half of the amateur fighters in the country come from this province, and more events are held in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada.
Quebec is the only province that allows fighters under 18 to perform in public events, and some of those regulating the sport, like the Fédération Québecois de boxe mixte amateur, have no legal right to sanction fights.
"[The government] sanctions professional MMA, not amateur MMA. So a group of people involved in amateur MMA basically created an amateur federation to sanction amateur MMA. So, it's kind of technically illegal. But again, it's a grey area,” Plante says.
Even some of the event promoters say people sometimes get hurt, particularly when opponents are unevenly matched.
"There is always the risk of someone getting seriously injured and giving the sport a bad name because of that,” says Jamie McGowan, owner of the Victory MMA club and an amateur fight promoter.
However, for young fighter Gustave, the risks aren't great enough for him to let go of his dream to step into the octagon and put his skills to the test.
“When you have a good technique you're not really hurt," he says.
Tune in to CBC Montreal tonight at 5 p.m. to watch Part II of the exclusive TV series on MMA by sports reporter Doug Gelevan.
Tomorrow, CBC will air the third and final part, about the future of amateur MMA in Quebec.
*An earlier version of this story contains a quote from Tapology's Mathieu Plante in which he says children were fighting in front of 5,000 fans. He later revised his statement, saying he meant 500 fans.