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Calgary grapples with steady decline in MMA, other combat sports events

The number of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events has slowly declined in Alberta because many promoters have just tapped out, said an Edmonton-area promoter.

But a Calgary event promoter said some of the city’s licensing requirements are a little too strict.

Calgary’s Community and Protective Services committee will review the annual report of the Calgary Combative Sports Commission (CCSC) Wednesday, and in it they’ve recorded a steady decline in the number of events held each year.

The report suggested the economy, fee structures and opportunities in other jurisdictions could be responsible for the drop. No one from the CCSC was willing to talk to LiveWire Calgary about possible hurdles, as the report had yet to be delivered to the committee.

In 2011, there were 22 events split between three disciplines: Boxing, MMA and Muay Thai. That number dropped to 8 in 2017, with six boxing, two MMA and no Muay Thai events.

A pall was cast over the fight community in Alberta with the June 2017 death of boxer Tim Hague in Edmonton. After a lengthy review, Edmonton put a moratorium on combative sports events – in effect until December of this year.

After the review, 18 recommendations were spelled out for the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, and 16 of those have been adopted by the CCSC, according to the group’s annual report.

There are still events happening in Calgary. The big ticket is the UFC card July 28, with two other events scheduled for this year. The UFC had a miserable first outing in the city in 2012, with nine of the headline fighters pulling out due to injury. That forced five fights to be changed and thousands tried to unload their tickets.


Sunny Sareen, president of Unified MMA, who is hosting an MMA fight card Nov. 16 at Calgary’s Genesis Centre, said some of the aforementioned economy-related factors may come into play, but he believes it has more to do with promoters being knocked out of the ring.

“People are talking about all these events that happened over the past five or eight years, but you need to understand that when all these events were popping up, that’s when MMA started becoming mainstream, so everyone wanted to get involved in the business, everybody wanted to do shows,” Sareen said.

He said the number of events eventually plateaued, with the promoters that took it on as a full-time enterprise hosting the bulk of the fight cards. When he first started in 2009, Sareen said there were six fight promoters in Edmonton, but now he stands alone.

“People had expectations that you host a show, you fill it with local guys and the venue will fill. That’s not the case at all anymore,” Sareen said.

After having his Edmonton show scuttled due to the moratorium – later moving it to the River Cree Casino – Sareen explored the opportunity Calgary might have to offer. His experience working with the Calgary commission has been exceptional, he said.

But Ari Taub, former Olympic wrestler and MMA fight promoter with Calgary’s Hard Knocks Fighting Championship, said the economy does play a role in fewer fight promotions, with tickets sales sluggish and sponsorship a tough sell. As does the frequency with which fighters want to compete.

He said one of the biggest hurdles in Calgary, however, is the fighters’ medical requirements are considerably more stringent than other jurisdictions.

“I competed in the Olympics in wrestling, where there’s a bunch of head trauma, there’s a bunch of fluid transfer, and so things like concussions and risk of AIDS or hepatitis or communicable skin diseases are basically the same as in MMA,” Taub said.

“I’ve competed for upwards of 20 years and I competed in the Olympics and I’ve never once had to get the testing that is required of every athlete, virtually every time they compete in Calgary.”

He said he’s competed all over North America and very few, if any, places require the medical testing Calgary does. If the IOC and other governing bodies for combat sports don’t require the tests and are a good barometer for acceptable medical controls, Calgary is going overboard, Taub said. And with the way it’s structured, with medical reviews happening just prior to the event, if someone fails medical testing, the whole card suffers.

“That makes it real tough for the promoters, the athletes and the sport in general,” said Taub.

The city is reviewing its policies surrounding combative sports in the city with the “aim to encourage events to resume in our municipality,” the CCSC report reads.

The other fight card scheduled for later this year in Calgary is the Challenger Muay Thai Series through Mike Miles promotions.