Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) already penciled in a place, date and time for its first-ever trip to Vancouver after the local city council recently passed a two-year "trial" period to regulate mixed martial arts.
Most of us are expecting to see Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz square off for a third time in the main event of UFC 115 from the GM Place on June 12, while Mirko Cro Cop and Pat Barry get busy on the main card alongside Ben Rothwell and Gilbert Yvel.
Not so fast.
Vancouver resident, former professional fighter and mixed martial arts activist Paul Lazenby was on hand at yesterday's (March 2) meeting of the Vancouver Athletic Commission to inquire about obtaining his promoter's license as well as get more information about the upcoming Zuffa event.
"In spite of Vancouver City Council's approval of a two-year trial period for MMA, I found out that there are still no regulations in place to promote the sport professionally within the city. The problem lies in the fact that the city is still expressing grave concerns about legal and financial liability, while movement toward a resolution of those concerns appears to have been extremely sluggish. At one point, newly-elected VAC chair Mirko Mladenovic (a supporter of properly-sanctioned MMA) asked Mr. Hammel when the legal issues might be resolved, to which Mr. Hammel replied, "About two months" in a manner that indicated to me that it may be even longer."
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time the UFC has been faced with the possibility of pulling an event from Canadian soil. UFC 97: "Redemption" was all set for April 18 in Montreal until former PRIDE punching bag James Thompson ran amok at the Strikebox fiasco and exposed the holes in the existing regulation.
Of course Zuffa went to Defcon 1 and was able to save the event, thanks largely in part to the thousands of fans that had already purchased tickets -- and the serious financial benefits the city was expected to gain.
But UFC 115 is still over three months away, and Lazenby suggests there's still a lot of red tape to cut through before the world's largest fight promotion can get to Vancouver.
"Paradoxically, Mr. Hammel also said that an MMA event could technically be held at Vancouver's PNE Fairgrounds, which have previously hosted major events by bodogFIGHT and Elite Fighting Championships, but added that such an event would be subject to the approval of the PNE board, who have turned every inquiring promotion down flat including Edmonton's MFC and eastern Canada's Elite-1. Hearing all that I damn near stopped breathing, since it would mean that unless something changes, and quickly, then our UFC event is already dead in the water."
Like UFC 97, it's hard to imagine the UFC not springing into action -- if they haven't already. Canadian fans account for 15 to 20 percent of the promotion’s business, which Zuffa brass call their largest per capita success story. Hopefully they can identify the areas of concern that have surfaced courtesy of Lazenby and take the appropriate action.
The show must go on!