After hosting more than 30 events in Edmonton, Unified MMA is taking its business elsewhere after losing confidence in the city’s policies.
The relationship between the mixed martial arts company and the city deteriorated late last year, when city council suddenly put a moratorium on combative sports.
The ban was implemented in response to the death of Tim Hague, who died from injuries sustained in a local boxing match. The city said it wanted to review its rules to ensure athlete safety.
The sudden moratorium forced Unified MMA to tap out on a sold-out show at the very last minute, according to its president.
“We were working on that show in December with them for almost a year, and on a daily basis for three to four months,” Sunny Sareen explained. “For them to just cancel on us a week in advance, it makes it difficult for us to go back.”
Sareen had already been looking for a new venue and said with the bitter taste the ban left, he picked up and moved his business just outside of city limits, to Enoch.
“I think River Cree Resort and Casino has a great name and a great entertainment venue and to add the MMA aspect to it just makes total sense,” said Vik Mahajan, River Cree’s chief operating officer.
At the casino, mixed martial arts fall under the umbrella of another combative sports commission, one Sareen said he is more comfortable investing with.
“When we’re in Edmonton, it just feels like it’s a lot more difficult to put the event on. It just seems like you’re competing with them when we should all just be working together on this one,” he said.
Edmonton City Council voted to lift the moratorium on combative sports in February. Councillors say the city is making some changes of its own, but wants Alberta’s NDP government to tag into the ring.
“This needs to be regulated by the province,” city councillor Mike Nickel said.
“Standards should be set by the province so we’re all playing under the same rulebook. That way we can get past these local disagreements.”
Unified MMA does not plan to host a single event in Edmonton this year.
“These are six-figure events,” Sareen said. “They impact the economy tremendously. Each event employs between 100 to 120 people. Those are labourers, staffing for the events, the video production company.”
In addition to holding events at the River Cree Resort and Casino, Sareen is also working with Calgary’s Combative Sports Commission to host events in that city.
“I’m always concerned when we lose business. That doesn’t change. That’s why we need this fixed,” Nickel said.