The City of Grande Prairie has passed multiple bylaw amendments to improve it’s ability to act as a regulating body for mixed martial arts (MMA) and combat sports, but is still lacking the one big change promoters want.
The Grande Prairie Combative Sports Commission (GPCSC) is unable to host amateur bouts.
Darren Cliffe, the biggest promoter around after pioneering and continuing to host the Xcessive Force fight series, said the ability to put amateurs on the card would be huge for him.
On Monday night, his chances of that happening improved when council directed Mayor Bill Given to seek that permission in a formal capacity.
Given will be contacting the Minister of Culture and Tourism and requesting the province designate the GPCSC as a body for regulation of the combative sports, specifically including both professional and amateur athletes.
In 2013, federal legislation decriminalized professional MMA in Canada. Bill S-209 was applauded by professional fighting organizations like the UFC for revamping the criminal code section on prizefighting to include MMA.
Essentially, it allowed the sport to be regulated at the professional level. What it didn’t address in any certain terms was the amateur side of the sport.
Amateur bouts were made illegal unless regulated by the province.
A July 2013 Xcessive Force event was booked with both amateurs and professionals on the card, and Cliffe had to drop the amateur bouts.
He has been running cards with strictly professional fighters ever since, which he said is a lot more expensive.
“It’s basically doubled the cost of our fighter fees. Notice we haven’t had other promoters come to town because they don’t want to pay a full-pro card,” he said. “It makes it tough to break even… The show (Xcessive Force) is keeping its head above water but it is making it tough without having (amateurs) that’s for sure.”
He said paying the pros requires increased sponsorship, which he’s been lucky to find in Grande Prairie.
“If I had it my way I would run a ‘pro-am’ show… at the most 50/50,” he said. “If we were allowed amateurs I’d take the money from the bottom half of the show and put it in the top half to bring in way bigger names… like UFC veterans.”
The province of Alberta didn’t take on regulatory duties, so instead municipalities began to form governing bodies to govern the fights – some with assent from the provincial government.
The GPCSC was in place at the time, and Cliffe was hopeful they would have the requisite permission by September 2013 – in time for another scheduled Xcessive Force event.
Formal recognition as a regulatory body for both professional and amateur fights hasn’t been requested until now.
Coun. Kevin O’Toole sits on the GPCSC and made the motion for the mayor to seek the provincial stamp of approval.
He said more than being detrimental to sports tourism with other promoters going to jurisdictions where it’s legal, local fighters and fans are also going other places while amateurs remain off local fight cards.
“We are losing (athletes) that live in the Peace Country,” O’Toole said, noting that many go to areas in British Columbia that hold amateur events, such as Dawson Creek, Prince George and Fort St. John to fight.
“We would just like them to be able to take part in events closer to the Grande Prairie area,” he said.
Cliffe said local fighters are also leaving to train elsewhere.
“A lot of guys from Grande Prairie, in order to become fighters, they travel to B.C. or Calgary, Lethbridge, or Red Deer where they are hosting (amateurs),” he said.
He explained that in some areas, he’s heard of promoters operating in a grey area of legality and hosting amateur showcases, scrimmages or exhibitions without the appropriate regulations in place.
In those cases, he says the commissions that allow it and the promoters are exposed to a lot of risk.
O’Toole said the city is trying to follow every possible precaution to make sure holding amateur fights is legal.
“What we would like to do is have the province say ‘OK, endorse it into your bylaws,’ or have them write us a letter giving us permission,” he said. “We just want it finalized one way or another.”
He said different commissions have interpreted the rules differently.
“Some municipalities may or may not have permission… We want to make sure whatever we do is done legally. We need to make sure there are no legal repercussions,” he said.
The GPCSC mitigates risk – even before S-209, the local commission treated amateurs to the same strict examinations and safety protocols as professionals.
Cliffe said given the strength of the local commission, and the popularity of the sport in the region, it’s good to see the city reaching out to the province.
“If it (works), they are protected by the province,” he said, supporting the ‘rather-safe-than-sorry’ approach.
“Grande Prairie doesn’t want the risk, and I don’t blame them,” he said.
30TH PEACE COUNTRY CLASSIC...
The Peace Country Classic Agri-Show is celebrating its 30th year in 2015.
It is being held at Evergreen Park from Thursday, March 12 to Saturday, March 14.