MMA advocates take on Canada’s top docs
by Blaine Meller
The gloves are off. In one corner, the Canadian Medical Association: an organization of doctors that “advocates high quality health care, and provides leadership and guidance to physicians.”
In the opposite corner: mixed martial arts (MMA), a sport rapidly increasing in participation and popularity in this country, thanks primarily to organizations such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). MMA is a combat sport where fighters utilize various disciplines, such as jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling, judo and kickboxing to incapacitate their opponents.
On August 25, delegates at the CMA’s annual meeting voted to ask the federal government to ban mixed martial arts in Canada. Although MMA is legal in seven provinces, the association is calling for a ban on the sport, claiming it puts fighters at risk of serious head injuries. In a Sept. 20 phone interview, CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull said doctors are concerned over the potential severity and frequency of head injuries being suffered by fighters.
“The goal of mixed martial arts is to disable or harm your opponent, which can lead to very serious head injury. As we now know, head injuries of this type can lead to dementia,” said Dr. Turnbull.
The resolution, which was brought forth at the CMA’s annual convention by delegates from British Columbia, only deals with prize MMA bouts because amateur events do not fall under the federal control. Having said that, Dr. Turnbull said the CMA is “very concerned” about any sport in which there is potential for severe head injuries.
Dr. Turnbull cited a 1986 resolution through which the CMA attempted to have professional boxing banned in Canada. “Whether it is prize or underground fighting, our job as doctors is to speak out against sports or activites where Canadians are being harmed,” he said.
At least one Canadian professional MMA fighter doesn’t agree with the CMA’s position. Vancouver’s Denis Kang, a veteran of 48 professional fights with organizations such as UFC and PRIDE, sees “no logic” in a ban. “It clearly shows the stupidity of whatever government entity is overseeing our sport,” said Kang, 34-12-2 in his pro career. “The suits at the CMA are obviously looking to pad their political resumes on the back of MMA’s recent surge in popularity.”
Kang questioned the decision on a number of levels, including why the CMA only chose to include prize (professional) bouts in its decision. “So-called ‘amateur’ fights are allowed to happen, but these barely differ from pro fights. The only difference is the removal of elbows and the lack of purses, so these young athletes are competing in full- contact MMA fights for free.”
Kang’s sentiments are echoed by a Calgary-based MMA conditioning coach. Tim Kessler of TIKE MMA said that while doctors with the CMA are concerned about fighter safety, recent developments in Ontario are a positive sign.
Ontario’s provincial government recently lifted its ban of MMA and will allow professional fights to take place in that province starting in 2011, and as a result, there are rumours the UFC will stage a card at Toronto’s Rogers Centre in March, one that could potentially draw upwards of 50,000 fans, making it the largest MMA event ever in North America.
“Ontario was concerned about fighter safety. They wanted to make sure (MMA) was properly governed and structured,” said Kessler. “Hopefully this means MMA is starting to beseenina better light, and that it can be done safely.”
Kessler is also confused as to why the CMA would choose to target only prize fighting, especially with the amount of underground and unregulated fights already taking place. He said promoters staging underground or unregulated fights are doing participants more harm than good. Kessler said there need to be policies in place regarding medical testing and clearance, contracts, training of officials and fighter experience.
“There needs to be a structure in place to explain risks to new fighters,” he said. Kang, who will next fight Oct. 30 in Seoul, South Korea, said in the “unlikely” event that MMA was banned in Canada, there would be a decline in emerging Canadian talent. He also feels the issue will go away as “the federal government has much bigger fish to fry.”