MMA promotions in Ontario facing a double-edged sword

27th September, 2014: The date tentatively set to host the Ultimate Fighting Championship's fifth event in Toronto, Canada. Following two initial events that came…

By: Karim Zidan | 9 years ago
MMA promotions in Ontario facing a double-edged sword
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

27th September, 2014: The date tentatively set to host the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fifth event in Toronto, Canada. Following two initial events that came within the span of nine months in 2011, fans became adjusted to seeing fight cards hosted in the second half of September – a tradition of sorts, since the UFC started to host back-to-back events in September beginning in 2012 (UFC 152, UFC 165).

In lieu of the regular PPV card in 2014, fans were startled to find that the event tentatively scheduled to take place in Toronto would be moved to Las Vegas, Nevada.

While the UFC explained that they preferred hosting the anticipated Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson rematch (later Jones vs. Cormier before finally settling on Johnson vs. Cariaso) in ‘The City of Lights’ instead of where the first title fight took place back in September 2013, it was hardly a good sign for the regional market.

Notable Canadian journalist Carlin Bardsley proposed that the problem lay between the UFC and their Canadian broadcast partner Sportsnet, with whom their contract is due to expire in a few months with no clear renewal agreement in sight. While that is certainly a notion worth exploring with regards to UFC 178, the problems with MMA in Ontario are far more dire than a dwindling broadcasting relationship.

At one point, it appeared as though Ontario was set to become the new hub for MMA. Along with the record-breaking UFC 129 event at the Rogers Centre, companies such as Score Fighting (MMA) Series began to sprout across the province, promising an assemblage of events to quench fans’ thirst.

It simply did not last.

According to the Office of the Athletics Commissioner, which regulates MMA in Ontario, the province hosted 14 MMA events in 2011, 11 shows in 2012 and a grand total of 3 shows in 2013.

Behind the scenes, much of the blame has been placed on Ontario Athletics Commissioner Ken Hayashi, who has overseen MMA in the province since its legalization in 2011.

The concern that several promoters and officials have made clear over the past few years is that Hayashi is at fault for his hands-on strategy during the matchmaking process as well as his strict – read: unreasonable – guidelines ahead of and during the events.  Few have ever publicly spoken out against the commissioner, and those who do are likely to be offered the same response I was.

“I follow my regulations,” Hayashi told “My main concern is the health and safety of the fighters and well-matched fights. That is my mandate.”

According to Hayashi, it is not his job to simplify matters for hopeful promoters, “I don’t make the regulations. They are put in place to ensure the health and safety of the fighters. They apply the same to boxing, kickboxing and MMA, so there is no difference.”

Although none were interested in speaking on the record, several promoters and officials have shared their concerns regarding Hayashi’s hands-on approach to matchmaking. While all commissions are responsible for mediating events to ensure safety, many claim that Hayashi’s approach serves to deteriorate previously interesting fight cards.

“I will never change match-ups. I will turn down matches if I think that they are not fairly matched and that is what my job is. It is to ensure that the health and safety of the fighters is the most important thing.

“It is not my job to find fighters”

Another distinct obstacle is the seemingly exorbitant costs that promoters are faced with when producing an event. Apart from the hefty taxation that characterizes Ontario, promoters have also objected to the costly expectations of the regulatory body.

However, Hayashi refuses to lower the commission’s standard when it comes to cage-side medics and officials.

“The fees haven’t really changed that much. MMA is a little different because with more fights you need more officials and stuff like that. If we do a show in a town and I am using a shoestring amount of officials and then somebody gets sick or in a car accident, we are then short on officials.  The point is we want to make sure that we have enough officials to cover the event safely to make sure that the event can take off. We don’t want to cancel an event because six officials couldn’t make it.”

In an apparent effort to lighten the cost of the officials on promoters, Hayashi revealed that the commission only used “local officials” in the past year in order to be “self-sufficient.”

The apparent lack of MMA events in the region is clearly due to a variety of reasons. Some argue that the demand for local MMA is far from substantial in Ontario, while others are adamant that the commission – and particularly Hayashi – have crippled small promoters and hindered the growth of the sport at a grassroots level.

Naturally, Hayashi leans towards the former of the two opinions.

“If a promoter is not making money then I can’t really comment on whether they should be doing this on a regular basis or on a one-off basis. That is strictly up to the promoters. I am not in that business. If they want to do six events that year, I will sanction six events that year. It is totally up to them. It is their money. They are the ones that are promoting the event.”

The only scheduled MMA event in Ontario for the remainder of 2014 is the Provincial Fighting Championships 3 event in London, Ontario – the final in a handful of shambled fight cards lacerated with the wounds from the double-edged sword that is Ontario MMA.

“I don’t know how they are promoting their events, but they are not drawing the numbers that they are expected to draw. The bottom line is that the attendance for these events has not been great. You cannot be successful if you do not have the audience.

“How they get more people into the arena? That’s their concern, not mine.”

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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