The first rule of fight club is, you don't talk about fight club.
Sadly, this is more than a line from a film.
Because the B.C. provincial government has never got around to updating aging prizefighting laws, and Vancouver city council seems to have MMA regulation right between mandatory seal hunting and work camps for the homeless on their to-do list, local fight fans have to really work to see their chosen sport.
Oh sure, you can always squeeze into your local bar and catch a UFC pay-per-view for a short-term fix, but nothing quite compares to the thrill of full-contact combat sports action with a packed crowd, up close and personal, with an ice-cold brewski at hand.
Sadly, as long as local government dawdles over the issue, fight fans need to be well-connected to even know an event is taking place. But if you're prepared to take a road trip to the Island, or the Interior, where the sport is regulated, successful, hugely popular and welcomed, you can often find events that rival the UFC for action.
The best place to see B.C. mixed martial arts, according to Valleyfight promoter Paul Daniel, is in the interior town of Prince George, where former UFC fighter Bill (The Butcher) Mahood has been drawing crowds in the thousands to regularly scheduled pro fight cards.
"Prince George is the undisputed fight capital of B.C.," says Daniel, who promotes sold-out events held in Chilliwack's Tzeachten Hall. "There are so many martial arts clubs in PG mostly because of those shows, and they really produce some quality fighters."
Former pro wrestler, MMA fighter and kick-boxing champ Paul Lazenby agrees.
"The production quality and in-ring action put XFC in the top tier of regional-level MMA events," says Lazenby. "Mahood's large-scale shows at the CN Centre have become an annual tradition."
Eastern B.C. is positively popping with MMA right now. Mahood has recently taken his XFC brand south to Vernon, while Glen Kalesniko's Pride Gym in Trail runs regular events that are known for their high standards. Castlegar, Invermere, Dawson Creek and Nakusp also welcome MMA events, while an American promoter scheduled to hold an event in Penticton in August is promising to "blow the doors open" to the sport in B.C.
Back on the coast, Vancouver Island fight fans would dispute the claim that Prince George is the B.C. hub of MMA, as Victoria's Pride promotion and the Nanaimo King of the Cage events have been hugely successful there.
"Former world muay thai and full-contact karate champ Stan [The Steamer] Peterec of Pride is a firmly entrenched promoter who mixes boxing, kick-boxing and MMA on a single event," says Lazenby. "His King of the Ring and Art of War cards have earned rave reviews from Island fight fans at Western Speedway."
King of the Cage is perhaps the biggest promotion in Western Canada, often holding large events in Alberta where the sport is regulated, and Nanaimo, where local government embraced MMA early and has been benefiting from it since.
But what's a Lower Mainland fight fan to do if a road trip is out of the question?
There are options, but once again, they're not easy to track down.
In Chilliwack, Valleyfight has been running shows every three months or so for several years on first nations reserve property, as the local council won't allow the sport in city-run facilities. Valleyfight promoter Daniel is frustrated with the small venue and the stigma that a reserve show brings, to the point where he's actively seeking options in Coquitlam, Burnaby and even downtown.
"We'll call city officials and someone will tell you they're a huge fan of the sport and they'd love to bring it to their town, and then the next person you talk to will give you grief. We can't grow in Chilliwack right now so we're looking for the next step up."
In North Vancouver, promoter Mike Hammoud faces similar issues. He stopped promoting events on reserves on the North Shore in favour of amateur events on city property. The standard of fighter is lower, but it makes the events more accessible to fans.
"We have nothing to hide," Hammoud said. "We just want to let people see good fights and give the fighters somewhere to do their sport and not force them to America or Alberta."
Surrey's Suitela Gym, where former UFC fighter Kalib Starnes trains, is working towards creating a local amateur MMA circuit, having held an event last Friday at Victory Christian Centre that raised $15,000 for a Langley women's shelter.
UPCOMING MMA EVENTS
June 27: Genesis Fights VII, Shoreline Community College, Kirkland Wash., 425-822-9656
June 27: North American Challenge, Mickey McDougall Gym, North Vancouver, 604-318-1902
July 4: Nakusp Fight Night, Nakusp
Aug. 15: IFC Caged Combat, South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton 1-877-763-2849
WHERE THE FIGHTS ARE
If there's no regular fight action near you, call your local council and tell them you want to see more MMA - or save your money (when capacity is small, prices are often high) and check the websites listed below:
North Vancouver: Top Ranked, www.iscfmma.com/ISCFEvents.htm
Surrey: Suitela Fight Club, www.suitela.com
Chilliwack: Valleyfight, www.valleyfight
Victoria: Peterecs Kickboxing, www.peterecskickboxing.com/events/
Alberta, Nanaimo: King of the Cage, www.kingofthecage.ca
Nanaimo, Invermere: So You Wanna Fight, www.soyouwannafight.com
Prince George, Vernon: XFC, www.revolutionfightteam.com
Trail: Pride Gym, www.pridegym.ca/
Penticton: IFC, www.ifccagedcombat.tv/
Seattle, Kirkland, Wash.: Genesis/Ax Fighting, www.genesisfights.com
For more on MMA please go to vancouversun.com/mma