Ontario isn't ready to allow mixed martial arts fighting matches to be held in the province even though events like the wildly popular Ultimate Fighting Championship could bring jobs to the province.
Despite the likelihood such matches would generate much-needed tax revenue for the cash-strapped province and jobs, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday it's "just not a priority."
"We have higher priorities when it comes to developing those jobs and strengthening the economy," said McGuinty, who has suggested in the past he was open to having mixed martial arts fights in Ontario.
"We have other things on the go right now, and we'll stay focused on those, whether that's our tax reforms, stimulating the economy through investments in infrastructure, getting our children better opportunities at the outset."
Mixed martial arts matches are permitted by provincial athletic commissions in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba. Municipal athletic commissions in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Prince George, B.C., and several other B.C. communities also sanction MMA events.
Consumer Services Minister Sophia Aggelonitis said the province was watching the sport and aware of its popularity, but like the premier, said she wasn't ready to back it.
Past objections over violence
"We want to make sure that we protect not only our spectators but also sports participants," she said.
Asked outright whether he found something in ultimate fighting offensive, McGuinty declined to elaborate, nor did he say if he was closing the door on the sport altogether.
Ontario has objected to the one-on-one fights in the past, saying they're too violent. McGuinty has also suggested that regulating the sport may be a better option than banning it and forcing its followers into underground fights, with no medical precautions and little training.
Mixed martial arts fighting has a strong fan base in Ontario, but MMA has long been banned in the province because it's considered to be "prize fighting" and is thereby illegal under the federal Criminal Code.
It can be licensed by provincial athletics commissions, however — something that has happened in various provinces and U.S. states.
MMA is one of the world's fastest growing spectator sports and the UFC has claimed a UFC event in Toronto could generate $4 million in tax revenue.
Travel to Quebec
UFC president Dana White has called Canada the "Mecca" of his sport, citing healthy ticket sales to Canadians for shows around North America and elsewhere.
But for now, Ontario residents will have to continue to travel to Quebec or elsewhere if they want to watch the sport — which combines elements of fighting sports such as boxing, wrestling, kick-boxing, karate and jiu-jitsu — live.
Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod said the premier should make a final decision soon, since the possibility of bringing MMA to Ontario is an issue that has come up again and again.
"We're looking for any form of economic stimulus in this province and Mr. McGuinty doesn't have a credible plan for the economy and that might be one boost," she said.
"He says it's not a priority but he's got shifting priorities by the day."
Events are planned for Montreal and Vancouver as early as this spring.