Vernon reconsidering ban on professional MMA fights

Click to play video: 'Vernon takes a fresh look at city’s ban on professional MMA fights' Vernon takes a fresh look at city’s ban on professional MMA fights
A Vernon MMA athlete and coach weigh in on the city’s fight ban. – Mar 12, 2019

Could mixed martial arts events be coming to the north Okanagan?

More than four years ago the city of Vernon banned professional MMA fights.

However, now city hall is collecting information from police and MMA groups to see if council should reconsider.

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In 2014, when Vernon passed the bylaw banning professional MMA fights from the city, officials had concerns about a link between local MMA events and organized crime.

“We’ve had some in-camera discussions from the RCMP,” Rob Sawatzky, who was mayor of Vernon at the time, said in 2014.

“They are quite concerned and gave us the long history of the relationship between organized crime and professional mixed martial arts.”

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The idea of repealing the ban is being championed by first-term city councillor Kelly Fehr.

He believes the regulation of MMA events in B.C. by the provincial athletic commissioner provides a safeguard against organized crime concerns.

“Having organized crime involved in mixed martial arts, with the BC Athletic Commissioner, I don’t believe it is any longer a concern,” Fehr said.

“We will certainly get some feedback from the RCMP as to their perspective if they have any recent files, but I don’t think that is an issue that exists in B.C. any longer.”

WATCH: Vernon takes first step towards banning MMA events (2014)

Currently, to hold an amateur or professional MMA event in B.C. the event must be sanctioned by the B.C. Athletic Commissioner and many of the people involved, including the athletes and promoter, must be licensed by or registered with the commissioner’s office.

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Promoters must submit an criminal record check.

Vernon RCMP said they couldn’t comment Tuesday on whether there are continuing concerns about a link between MMA and organized crime.

While the city’s 2014 bylaw doesn’t explicitly ban amateur contests, the owner of Unity MMA, a local gym, said that it has had that effect because most events contain both amateur and professional fights

“For my business it is hard to get exposure because we can’t have events obviously here in town,” Unity MMA owner Raja Kler said.

“For my athletes, too, it makes it more difficult. It adds expense.”

Kler said local MMA athletes are traveling to compete in fights and it is difficult for athletes to work on making weight while traveling to events.

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