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Ready to Rumble: UFC Comes to Vancouver

Despite resistance from police and community leaders, the brutal, often bloody Ultimate Fighting Championship visits the city
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Fight Club
Former boxer Manny Sobral doesn’’t buy the “violence begets violence” argument. “If anything,” he says, “it’s the opposite” Gregory Crow

Despite resistance from police and community leaders, the brutal, often bloody Ultimate Fighting Championship visits the city

Brace yourself. Buy plywood for the windows. Get canned food for the basement. The apocalypse will hit Vancouver next June. Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA—which has been vilified as “barbaric” and “human cockfighting” by no less than John McCain (war hero and lifetime boxing fan)—is coming to an arena near you.

MMA can trace its roots to the Greek pankration, which became an Olympic sport in 648 BCE. But the modern thread begins with the Gracie family of Brazil and their vale-tudo challenges. In the 1920s the Gracies began spreading their gospel of interdisciplinary fighting to America, eventually getting the first UFC show on pay-per-view television in 1993. It’s by many accounts the fastest-growing sport in the world, and after two hugely successful cards in Montreal, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—the pre-eminent MMA organization in the world—has its sights set on Toronto and Vancouver.

That interest is heartily reciprocated. Vancouver consistently rates in the top 10 North American cities for sales of UFC pay-per-view events. Walk down a commercial street on fight night and every bar and café, even the upscale ones, will be packed. The UFC is promising to fill GM Place with a card headlined by one of the sport’s superstars, perhaps even Montreal’s Georges St.-Pierre, UFC Welterweight Champ and Canada’s 2008 Athlete of the Year.

In 2007 this city created a de facto moratorium on MMA events here by insisting on provincial sanctioning. As councillor David Cadman put it: “We don’t want to be a nanny state, but we don’t want the liability. They need to get sanctioned and regulated by the province. I don’t want to spend taxpayer money on lawsuits.” That hurdle looks to have been cleared after some deft negotiating and a visit by the charismatic head of the UFC, Dana White. Attorney General Mike de Jong recently went on record as saying, “We have no problem with it whatsoever.”

But just the suggestion that the UFC will land in our fair city has sent polite society into a minor frenzy. Officials have warned of moral corruption. The cover of 24 Hours blared: “Ultimate Fighting in city streets?” The police have made explicit links between MMA events and gang violence. “It’s a fact,” VPD Sgt. Bill Whalen, spokesman for the Combined Forces special enforcement unit, told the Times-Colonist. “We’ve seen that UFC events attract some gang or organized crime members. It’s popular with them.”

Manny Sobral tells a different story. The 41-year-old, who operates a Burnaby gym, knows something about fighting. Growing up in East Vancouver, he compiled an impressive 113-11 amateur boxing record, winning four Canadian Amateur Championships and six gold medals at international competitions, then competing in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul at age 19. After the Olympics he studied at UBC, finishing his B.A. and his teaching degree. Then he turned pro.

Recent Comments


Ultimate fighting has quite the following here in the United States and I am willing to be that there are parents of small children who won't allow their kids to see these fights. I also think there are those who are telling them to learn to fight like that. It is sometimes barbaric and I wonder what goes through the minds of the people watching. casino en ligne

by Paul Copeland on Nov 5 2009 at 5:09 AM