Mixed Martial Arts Coming to Ontario

Last weekend Premier Dalton McGuinty approved mixed martial arts (MMA) fights in the Province of Ontario, after years of resisting its introduction. Ontario will be the seventh province in Canada to allow MMA fights.

One of the major obstacles has been a provision in the Criminal Code banning what is termed as “prize fights,” with a specific exception for boxing,

Engaging in prize fight
83. (1) Every one who
(a) engages as a principal in a prize fight,
(b) advises, encourages or promotes a prize fight, or
(c) is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Definition of “prize fight”
(2) In this section, “prize fight” means an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them, but a boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass, or any boxing contest held with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board or commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the legislature of a province for the control of sport within the province, shall be deemed not to be a prize fight.

The Attorney-General of Canada has indicated that he will not interfere with the regulation of the sport.

The reason for the switch in policy appears to be financial, with $6 million of economic activity and 2 per cent of ticket sales going to the province. MMA is a popular sport.

How popular? Popular enough that David Nelmark of Belin McCormick, P.C in Des Moines, Iowa has a Mixed Martial Arts Law Blog. His post on Canadian developments includes a link to a story where the B.C. Medical Association is calling for a complete ban.

Okay, so not popular with everyone. Some are calling for MMA fighters to pay their own medical costs, even though proponents note that injuries are lower than other sports like football or boxing. The “mixed” component in MMA means that participants utilize a variety of techniques including body strikes and joint locks that reduce the incidents of head trauma.

How popular is MMA in Canada among lawyers? I did a quick search using Fee Fie Fo Firm to find out, and this is what I came up with:

The real enthusiast award goes to Oneal Banerjee of Reisler Franklin LLP, who trains in both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, the most common (and often cited as most effective) mix used in MMA. Oneal judged me back in 2007 when I won UWO’s Client Counselling Competition. Who knows, MMA fights might be the new locale for client development.

The affection flows the other way too. MMA star Randy Couture has gone through several divorces and made this video spoof of a family lawyer during the 2009 World MMA Awards:


  1. I am having a difficult time with the reasoning that was behind the ban on MMA. It seems to me that the objections sat in the following general areas:

    * It’s barbaric. Yes, looks like it to me. But I suspect the same could be said of boxing.
    * It causes injuries (concussions) and deaths. As do many other sports, from auto racing to boxing to football to lacrosse…
    * It glorifies violence. As does wrestling, boxing, hockey…

    It seems to me that the sport of MMA has suffered in Ontario because it’s new and because it appears “extreme.” Personally, I can’t ever imagine going to a MMA event. I don’t see two guys pounding each other as entertainment. But I can’t see why it was opposed so long.

  2. I differ from Bob in that I think it’s possible to stop on the slippery slope — has to be, when you come to think of it, or all things are licit, or forbidden. And I would stop short of this barbarism. Mind you, I’d probably outlaw boxing and indeed any hitting of heads.

    I heard the minister interviewed on CBC recently about this. Asked what sort of ground swell of support she’d got for making this legal, she skipped to the side and started talking about “stakeholders” — and not, alas, the sort that stand beside doomed vampires — all of whom stood to benefit financially.

    You’ll have gathered that I’m agin’ it.

  3. Does prosecutorial discretion actually go as far as to simply refuse to enforce the law? That is, given the specific definition in the criminal code, shouldn’t the crown be obliged to follow the will of the legislature by prosecuting any prize fighters except for boxers? I am not necessarily against allowing MMA – it would be difficult to continue to rationalize a ban given that boxing is allowed; however, I think that the provision in the criminal code needs to be amended by Parliament in order to allow MMA.

  4. Chris,
    I agree there is plenty in the Code that needs to be reformed. Back in 2007 Commissioner Ken Hayashi did indicate that s. 83 would need to be reworded for MMA to be legal. I’m assuming based on media reports that MMA will be deemed a form of boxing and regulated under an athletic board or commission, thereby circumventing s. 83(2).
    The specific legislation that would need to be amended then would be the Athletics Control Act, specifically O. Reg. 52 which addresses boxing.
    Part III of the Act already regulates fights that include both fists and feet. An additional problem is that MMA usually includes more than just fists and kicks, such as shins, arm and leg locks, chokes, and sometimes even knees and elbows, though those are less commonly included in North America.
    Under the Act the Ontario Athletics Commissioner is responsible for the issuing of licenses and responsible for the supervision of activities governed by the Act and its regulations.

  5. As a die-hard MMA fan from back in the days when (shock!) I had to attend live (but questionably legal) feeds of events in the dark basements of my local ‘hole-in-the-wall’ Chinese food restaurant, I for one am happy to see the recent changes. Now if the UFC could just manage to have the Josh Koscheck/Georges St. Pierre fight occur in T.O. so I wouldn’t have to go to Vegas, I’d be a truly happy camper. Thanks for the post, Omar, very interesting.