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mmaby Briana Shymanksi

It’s no secret that mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a popular sports trend these days in North America, but a controversy has risen over the legality of the sport in Saskatchewan.  Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and Nunavut are the only jurisdictions in Canada that have not yet sanctioned professional MMA fighting. 

A full contact sport, MMA was brought to North America in 1993 from Brazil and combines combative elements, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing. For local fighter Joey Staniowski, MMA is more than two guys (or girls) kicking and punching each other.

“It’s a physical chess match. Most people look at it like its two guys duking it out in a slugfest. There are so many aspects to it that many people don’t realize that it’s an extremely interesting sport,” he said.

However, the lack of sanctioning of professional fights in Saskatchewan doesn’t allow Staniowski to compete and fight in his home province. MMA sanctions are granted by the provincial government, and the problem is that the Saskatchewan government remains uneducated on the sport, according to Graham Weenk, a professional MMA fighter who runs the Alliance Training Centre in Saskatoon.

“The (government officials) that I’ve met with seem clueless on what (MMA) is. They didn’t really have an interest in making it happen because they didn’t know what the sport was,” he said.

The specific reason why the Saskatchewan government won’t sanction professional fights is still unclear to the fighters. One issue is that engaging in or promoting a prize fight is illegal according to the criminal code. Weenk agrees that money may be a factor, but finds a deeper disconnect between the amateur and professional rulings.

“What we call amateur here, around the world, it’s recognized as professional.  The rules are essentially the same between amateur and professional. The only difference is getting paid and getting it recognized. Why amateur is allowed and pro isn’t doesn’t make any sense.”

It is a requirement that the fights are government regulated, but some organizations have attempted to get sanctioned as a privatized company. Staniowski’s coach, Jeff Wiley, has tried to bring sanctioning bodies in from the U.S.A. to jumpstart a sanctioning body in Saskatchewan. Both have been unsuccessful. Weenk said that problem with sanctioning through privatized companies is the high risk of corruption within the company. 

A lack of sanctioning isn’t the only obstacle that MMA has faced in Saskatchewan.  Last year, the British Columbia Medical Association made a push to ban MMA in Canada.  They claimed that the brain injuries fighters sustain in an MMA fight were more dangerous than those of other contact sports, like hockey or football.  A 2006 study conducted at John Hopkins University instead proved that the knockout rates and overall injury rates in MMA were lower than those of other combat sports, like boxing. BCMA’s bid has been unsuccessful. 

While Staniowski said that it will take a while for professional fights to be sanctioned in Saskatchewan, both he and Weenk believe that the popularity of MMA in the province won’t suffer. Fights televised on pay–per-view will keep the fan base entertained. However, Weenk said that the maximum potential of MMA in Saskatchewan will be only achieved with sanctioning of live, professional fights. 

 “The fans will still be the fans here, but the city and the province won’t make the revenue of the sport that they can.”

Above: Two MMA Fighters compete.

Photo Courtesy of Fighters Nation Inc.