KELOWNA - I saw my first UFC fight in 1995, only two years after it launched in the U.S. I found the VHS tape tucked away on the bottom shelf of the sports section at a 24-hour video rental store that closed down a decade ago.
I was 17 and the description on the back blew my mind.
Experts in karate, boxing, jiu-jitsu (whatever that was) and street fighting locked in a cage until one taps out or is knocked unconscious. No weight classes, no time limits, gloves-optional. And to be crowned the ultimate fighting champion, you had to win three fights in one night. Okay, I'll watch that.
And I'm glad I did. Royce Gracie, a 170-pound jiu-jitsu black belt from Brazil beat a 210-pound heavyweight bruiser nobody remembers. Gracie didn’t win because he was the angriest, he won because he approached his fight strategically and without emotion. Three submissions later, Gracie was crowned the first UFC champion. To this day, technique beats emotion almost every time.
The UFC has since gone from an underground sideshow without rules to the fastest growing sport in the world. Despite an impressive safety record however, MMA has taken its share of blows along the way.
Vernon councillors recently announced they want to ban MMA events in the city. Mayor Rob Sawatzky said it was not something Vernon wanted or needed and the matter will go to a public hearing.
It’s safe to say the local MMA community wasn’t pleased to be told their sport was getting lumped in with organized crime, and that’s understandable. The athletes I’ve interviewed and the parents of the MMA kids sure don’t seem like gangsters. They are friendly, interesting people challenging themselves with the most difficult sport there is and picking up some valuable life skills along the way. Believe me, it requires a special person to do this and I’d rather their talents be channelled in a pro-social direction.
After a recent interview with Kelowna fighter Matt Dwyer, we both worried the quotes I used painted him as a Rutland thug. I encouraged Matt to let the story stay as it was because I don’t think supporters of the sport should be hiding or avoiding the truth.
Matt Dwyer likes to fight. And he’s very good at it.
That is not the same as wanting to assault people or commit other crimes. When I asked Matt how he’d like his first fight in the UFC to go, he didn’t say he wants a one-sided beating. He wants a war. He wants to win a close fight where the danger of losing threatens him from start to finish. The more adversity Matt has to overcome, the more meaningful his experience.
Maybe it’s about testing limits, maybe it’s about something else entirely. I don’t fight, so I don’t know, but it’s clear the UFC and other promotions like it have tapped into something that needs to be channeled, not repressed. The MMA community needs thoughtful input from local government, and councillors would not regret making more of an effort to understand what's behind this phenomenon.
The sport of MMA will continue to change and along with it the arguments of those against it. Opinions are only meaningful however, if they're informed.
I can’t help but think if members of Vernon council had watched UFC 1 and the fighter nobody remembers they would recogize the dangers of an emotional response.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.