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Martial Arts community kicks back at "offensive" remarks by Vernon council

Female coach and recently signed UFC fighter Sarah Moras leads a kids MMA lesson at Toshido.
May 29, 2014 - 2:32 PM

VERNON - The mixed martial arts community is in an uproar over what they feel were offensive and uneducated comments made about their sport earlier this week by Vernon councillors.

The City of Vernon wants to ban mixed martial arts (MMA) events because, as Coun. Bob Spiers put it, “the association with the type of people that run those events and the type of people that show up” and the potential liabilities. He also called MMA a "ridiculous sport."

Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky spoke of “discussions over the last couple of years from the police informing us (city) that there’s a very strong historical and well known relationship between mixed martial arts events and organized crime” and said “the gold standard (in MMA) is to render your opponent unconscious and that’s brain damage.”

It appears the city is within its right to ban MMA events, which were nearly pummeled into extinction in the early 2000s. With Bill S-209, the sport was formally decriminalized in Canada and provinces were given the power to regulate and sanction MMA events with athletic commissions, something B.C. did with Bill 50 in 2012. However, B.C.’s Community Charter states in section 59 (1) (f) that councils may, by creating bylaws, “prohibit professional boxing, professional wrestling and other professional athletic contests.”

While a ban on MMA events will be fiercely fought by the community behind it, so too will the stereotypes around it. 

Salmon Arm resident Brenda Davidson, whose son fights competitively, is outraged by Vernon council’s remarks.

“His (mayor’s) comments are uninformed and absolutely offensive. I’m associated, as is my son, and I’d say they are some of the finest professional athletes I’ve ever met,” Davidson says.
She’s attended numerous MMA events, from Penticton to Nanaimo, and says they have all been well organized, clean and safe. While there have been few, if any, MMA events held in Vernon or Kelowna in recent years, competitions have been popular in Penticton and Kamloops hosted an event without any issues just a few months ago. 

“There’s no brawling, no drugs, I’ve never seen a fight in the stands, no derogatory comments being yelled,” Davidson says. “The men that go into the ring, it’s not about fighting unrefereed. It’s fierce combat with great bravery and courage and discipline. All the attributes I’ve seen are highly admirable as opposed to those of a politician.”

MMA is a combat sport where two competitors attempt to defeat one another by using a wide variety of martial arts techniques, such as karate, jiu-jitsu and boxing. The City of Vernon is considering banning MMA events within the municipality. 

When Davidson watches her son walk into the ring and touch gloves with his opponent, the lights in the arena dim and the music pounding, Davidson’s heart is pounding with pride.  Of course, she’s worried about him, as any mother would be. But no more so than when he played hockey.

“My son loves what he does. He is super dedicated, eats clean, doesn’t drink or take drugs,” she says. “I have a friend whose son wanted to serve in Afghanistan, and people asked her how could you let him?”

One of Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky’s issues with allowing the sport is the risk to a fighter’s health and well-being. But Kelowna coach and owner of Toshido Mixed Martial Arts David Lea says the rules and regulations set out by the B.C. Athletic Commission make the fighter’s safety paramount.

“Literally a quick Google search shows MMA isn’t even in the top three or four sports for head injuries. Hockey and football outweigh MMA. These claims Vernon council is trying to make have already been looked at and debunked,” Lea says.

Lea coaches pro fighters Rory MacDonald and Sarah Moras, and teaches MMA to men, women, children and even RCMP officers. He says the sport is positive for both mind and body, involving hard work, perseverance, respect and focus.

“It’s not the sensationalized blood sport it was marketed as in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Lea says.

Michael Peace has twin five-year-old boys who have been training at Toshido twice a week for the past six months and says it’s been a great experience.

“It’s given them confidence and I’ve noticed less violence around the house since they started,” he says. “It doesn’t make them more aggressive in fact it’s the opposite. They have more confidence and pride in themselves.”

Lea says the statement about MMA being connected to organized crime  is “nauseating” and insists Vernon council has no right, or grounds, to ban MMA events.

“When it comes down to it, members of the Vernon municipal government may not be fans of the sport and they’ve taken it upon themselves to make that decision for others,” Lea says.

City staff is currently drafting a bylaw to prohibit MMA events for council’s consideration.

Annika Hill practices mixed martial arts at Toshido in Kelowna. Her mother, Melanie, says MMA teaches her daughter discipline, self defence, focus and gives her an outlet for frustrations.
Annika Hill practices mixed martial arts at Toshido in Kelowna. Her mother, Melanie, says MMA teaches her daughter discipline, self defence, focus and gives her an outlet for frustrations.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
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