The Ultimate Fighting Championships expands Canadian presence
Ex-CFL commish Wright to head UFC’s ‘full court press’ in Ontario
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White likens the struggle to legalize mixed martial arts in Ontario to a basketball game and says the hiring of former CFL commissioner Tom Wright provides a boost of energy and a shift of strategy for the UFC’s cause.
The new director of Canadian operations, Tom Wright, instructs Lozenzo Fertitta, Ultimate Fighting Championship chairman and CEO, to keep his elbows tight otherwise he'll arm drag him and take his back.
Wright, who ran the CFL from 2002 to 2006, takes over as the UFC’s director of Canadian operations on Monday, the first and most significant employee of a Canadian office the UFC expects to expand to 15 people.
Establishing an office in Toronto gives the UFC a permanent presence in Canada, the country that, according to UFC officials, generates 17 per cent of the company’s revenue. And hiring Wright signifies that the UFC plans to crank up the pressure on provincial officials in charge of regulating combat sports.
“We’re going to have the full-court press going now,” White said at a Tuesday news conference to announce Wright’s hiring. “It shows how serious we are (about legalizing mixed martial arts in Ontario) and that we’re taking real initiative.”
Mixed martial arts, the almost-no-holds-barred form of fighting that the UFC has made wildly popular, is becoming legal in a growing number of states and provinces but still isn’t regulated in Ontario.
Wright’s arrival is also a strong signal of the continued mainstreaming of mixed martial arts, and an important boost for a sport still striving for legal recognition in Ontario.
Four years ago the UFC made a similar move in the U.S. when it hired Nevada Athletic Commission director Marc Ratner and then put him in charge of legalizing mixed martial arts in athletic commissions across the continent.
Since then major U.S. jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts, have altered state regulations to permit mixed martial arts. On June 12, Vancouver will play host to UFC 115, the first pro mixed martial arts event ever in that province.
But hosting a pro mixed martial arts card in Ontario still is a criminal offence.
Section 83 of the Criminal Code outlaws unsanctioned prize fights, but allows provinces to decide which types of prize fights to sanction. Five provinces, including Quebec and B.C., allow mixed martial events, but Ontario still doesn’t sanction the sport.
The UFC has been lobbying the Ontario government to change the laws governing combat sports but Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters in March at Queen’s Park that changing the legal status of mixed martial arts was “not a priority” for the government.