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Yellowknife MMA fight postponed due to liquor licence issues

Yellowknife's Warrior Strong Fight League has had to postpone its inaugural event due to issues with liquor licensing. 'There's a lot of money and time invested in this event,' says Warrior Strong CEO John Stanley.

'There's a lot of money and time invested in this event,' says Warrior Strong CEO John Stanley

John Stanley says the NWT Liquor Licensing Board is being unfair. 'Basically what they're saying is: 'You cannot make a mistake. You cannot be human. You cannot err here in any way, shape or form, or you will be punished harshly.' (CBC)

A mixed martial arts event scheduled for this weekend in Yellowknife has been postponed due to issues with obtaining a liquor licence, a decision that organizers and a local MLA are calling unreasonable. 

Warrior Strong Fight League, a promotion company based out of Yellowknife, was scheduled to host its first fight event on May 16. Earlier this week, however, a liquor board review denied a beer garden licence to the NWT SPCA, which was slated to host liquor sales as a fundraiser.

That forced the cancellation of the event, according to Warrior Strong CEO John Stanley. 

"The reality is that people want alcohol at the event," he says. "We just simply cannot do it without alcohol."

Stanley says that the Northwest Territories Liquor Licensing Board originally denied the event a liquor licence due to two issues: a late application, filed by the SPCA "six or seven days" after a 45-day deadline, and Warrior Strong advertising beer gardens in a poster before the licence was approved.

In that case, according to Stanley, organizers were approached by liquor inspectors before the licence was denied, and quickly replaced the posters, and called the board to apologize.

Despite their efforts, they were told their application was denied, with no possibility of a review. 

"I was not happy with that, obviously," says Stanley. "There's a lot of money and time invested in this event."

Application denied second time

Warrior Strong organizers then spoke with Range Lake MLA Darryl Dolynny, who approached the board. The board then reversed its previous decision, agreeing to re-review the application.

On Monday, word was received that the application was denied once again, this time, says Stanley, with additional reasons attached: due to the event's size, Warrior Strong, and not the SPCA, needed to be the applicant. 

The Liquor Licensing Board also stated in its second decision that because the event was taking place on the long weekend when territorial parks open for the summer, it didn't feel there would be adequate RCMP coverage in the city, stating that "similar events in the past have seen numerous physical altercations among patrons."

Stanley, who ran security at previous mixed martial arts events in the city, calls this "absolute lies," saying that in the three events held previously, there was a single physical altercation, and security was able to break it up without police involvement.

He also says that organizers had contacted RCMP, who had agreed to put officers on overtime and station them at the event. He attempted to relay this information to the Liquor Board, but did not receive a response.

"They didn't even give me the courtesy of a phone call," he says. "Not the courtesy of an email. Nothing."

MLA Dolynny said in a statement that he is "disappointed" with the procedural fairness of the licensing board.

"Blocking this event's full potential and possibly bankrupting this promoter in order to prop up a ridiculous [display] of bureaucratic red tape will only solidify the belief this government received an 'F' in this area," Dolynny said.

'There were mistakes made'

Stanley acknowledges the issues in the liquor licence application, saying that "there were mistakes made.

"But this was not two days before the event that mistakes were made. There was still plenty of time here. If I apply for a passport, and I make a mistake on my application, they're not going to say, 'Sorry, no passport.' They're going to give me the opportunity to fix the mistakes and re-apply."

"Basically what they're saying is: 'You cannot make a mistake. You cannot be human. You cannot err here in any way, shape or form, or you will be punished harshly.'"

The NWT Liquor Licensing Board refused comment on the decision, saying that it "will not discuss matters that come before it."

Despite the cancellation and thousands of dollars in losses due to changing plane tickets, loss of sponsors, and the return of a cage rented for the event to Alberta, Stanley says that Warrior Strong will push through with the event at a later date.

"We're not cancelling, we're postponing," he says. "We're going ahead with the event."

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