Ongoing insurance and indemnity issues surrounding professional mixed martial arts in the city of Vancouver could well see the two-year trial of regulated MMA pass with only a single professional event having been held, according to Vision Vancouver city council member Dr Kerry Jang and licensing staffer Tom Hammel.
"I think it's possible," said Jang when asked whether the legal issues dogging the sport in Vancouver could see the trial period end with barely any testing having actually taken place.
City assistant director of licensing Tom Hammel confirmed to Sun reporter Jeff Lee Wednesday that it is entirely possible that, during that entire two year trial period, the city won't license any MMA events against which they can study the outcomes.
Said Jang, "We're waiting for reports on the UFC event that just took place. We need to gauge how residents feel in the neighborhood. some people complained that there should be a more visible police presence instead of undercover officers. There was an issue with a beating - unrelated to the UFC, but the perception was there."
"We need to know what lessons were learned from that show, what worked, what didn't, what we worried about but didn't need to worry about. Once we get these reports back, we can figure out the smaller events. The UFC was driving the agenda for us obviously, so we resolved that first, the smaller events are next, and then amateur events."
Jang acknowledged that the process was slow going but urged promoter, fighters and fans to be patient and let the process play out.
"People want everything now, and we just can't give it to them now," he said. "This is part of the process you have to go through. Everyone wants to just go ahead and do it and see what happens, but if we don't have an insurer, can we legally insure ourselves?"
The Vancouver Athletic Commission oversaw an Ultimate Fighting Championship event on June 12 at GM Place that led to the fastest ticket sellout in UFC history and over 17,000 fans watching some of the fight games best athletes up close and personal, while over half a million pay-per-view subscribers and several million Spike TV viewers set eyes on the city.
But the mega-fight promotion had to pull some serious legal maneuvering and hard negotiating - as well as place a considerable amount on money into insurance and city indemnity - to get the go-ahead for the event.
Smaller fight promotions, such as the local West Coast Promotions, Honour Combat Championships, Alberta's Maximum Fighting Championships and the U.S.-based Shine Fights, would like to keep the MMA industry ticking in between large pay-per-view extravaganzas like UFC 115, but say the UFC deal is not open to them.
West Coast Promotions owner Manny Sobral will hold an amateur MMA event at Richmond's River Rock Casino Friday night and would like to hold a larger 4,000 seat outdoor event at Hastings Park Racecourse in late July, but the former Olympic boxer can't get an answer from the city as to how much insurance they want. Nor can he get an answer as to what the UFC paid to get their event staged.
"I've given them drawings, details of security plans, we've been asking for some time now but we've heard nothing," said Sobral Wednesday. "We can't do anything until we figure out what the insurance requirements are and the licensing staff tell us they have to ask the city manager and it's hard to push them because they hold our fate in their hands. If we push too hard, they might just decide to heck with you guys."
Sobral is hoping for a call explaining everything in the next few days, but is set to cancel his late July plans altogether if the process doesn't move forward soon, which will push his event back to September at the earliest, placing it at risk of inclement weather and low ticket sales.
"If we can't get an answer soon, it might have to wait another year," he says.
Jang claims the insurance requested from the UFC wasn't as extravagant as some have suggested. "We wanted around $12 million and were pretty close in the end. Basically, we wanted whatever Montreal is asking for - that's what we were aiming at, maybe a smidge more than Montreal."
The councillor conceded the specifics of the deal haven't been made public, but said if another promoter was prepared to take on the same deal, "They're welcome to put in an application and show that they have the means to do that deal."
Mark Pavelich's Maximum Fight Championships stages nationally televised events in Alberta every month and has sold out over a dozen 2,000 seater fight cards in a row, and lately has moved up to the 4,000 capacity level. He'd like to hold an event at the PNE, and has the money to do the same insurance/indemnity deal the UFC did, but not only has he yet to hear what that deal was, he's also been told the PNE can't be used for MMA because of an indemnity tangle that may not be able to be solved without changes to bylaws.
"The city wants venues to indemnify them against damages from a lawsuit, but the city owns the facility, and they can't indemnify themselves against themselves," Pavelich said in June.
"I want to be in Vancouver every month, holding big polished shows with sponsors and Mark Cuban's company televising it across North America, but the PNE board says no way," said Pavelich. "And there's nowhere else to do it unless I want to go to GM Place. So you know what? I'm done trying to bang my head on a brick wall. We're looking to Toronto and if Vancouver ever comes around, we'll talk then."
The insurance problems dogging Vancouver MMA are seemingly not an issue outside of the city. In Victoria, the Armageddon Fighting Championships have packed fans into a 4,000 seat arena in Colwood, so much so that they recently announced a TV deal that will see their fight cards replayed on CHEK TV. Fight cards in Prince George, Vernon and Penticton have drawn thousands of audience members and received national airtime on The Score.
But none of the groups behind those events can get a permit in Vancouver until city staff outline what's required from them, a process that was supposed to have already happened.
"I can understand people getting impatient," says Jang, "but we have to deal with these issues over time. We sorted out the UFC situation, but now we have to deal with smaller events, and there's also amateur events - we want those regulated too. If the city-owned facilities can't be used right now, the city staff will tell us that and then tell us how we can change the situation so they can be used down the line. That's their job, and they're very good at it."
Asked what can be done when a promoter looks to get 'the UFC deal' only to be told that deal is confidential, Jang says they just need to be patient, stay in touch with city staff, and if they feel the process isn't working as it should, "they remain free to lobby myself or the other councillors to take the issue up on their behalf."
"In my opinion, we have very professional staff and, any time I've taken an issue up for someone who has contacted me, we've found they're doing their job exactly as they should. I've never known staff to do an end run on an issue."
Jang acknowledged that local promoters are being hampered by the slow going of the insurance issues, but said he can't state that the regulatory process will be finalized before the two-year professional MMA trial period ends.
"I just don't know when it will be solved," he said. "Could it be that we don't have another event before the end of the trial period? It's possible. I can't say for sure."
Ultimately, Jang says the issue is a federal and provincial one that Vancouver is struggling with because others have shirked it.
"Talk to [federal culture minister] James Moore. He said [changes to the criminal code permitting professional MMA] would be done, but it hasn't been done yet. We've done a lot to get it to the city of Vancouver - it's not what everybody wants, but we got the UFC here. But this could all be solved quickly if the federal government decriminalized professional MMA, kickboxing and karate, and if the provincial government set up oversight of amateur MMA."
"If James Moore is such a fan, let's see him step up," he said, adding, "I ain't seen nothin' yet."
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