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The Globe and Mail

The extreme stupidity of banning extreme fighting

UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre (top) battles Dan Hardy during their Welterweight title bout.

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Let me tell you about four men I know.

One is the creative director of a digital design company, one runs a literary agency, one is a writer/actor, and the last is a professional illustrator who possesses a singular talent for drawing in fine and mind-bogglingly intricate detail. Each of these men is a card-carrying member of what uber-prophet Richard Florida calls the Creative Class.

Unfortunately for these four men, they live in Toronto.

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They profess a love for an activity that, in this ostensibly upright town, dare not speak its name.

That activity involves grown men kicking, punching and wrestling and generally beating the crap out of each other.

Here in Old York - provincial capital of rectitude and decency - mixed martial arts fighting (MMA), as it's known, is banned. People can watch live American broadcasts on TV, they can beat the crap out of one another down at the gym, but attending a live event in Ontario is simply not allowed.

Call it what you want - prudery, repression, noblesse oblige, Queens Park mandarins saving the rabble from themselves - it's something this city has always been good it.

These four friends of mine, as a result, feel part of an oppressed minority.

They are not. They may skew heavily towards artsy as far as vocation, but their enjoyment of a quality donnybrook puts them in the fat belly of the bell curve, statistically speaking.

Toronto, it just so happens, is veritably teeming with MMA aficionados. There are more of them here than in rough-and-tumble towns like Newark, Reno, or Philadelphia. According to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the American league that broadcasts fights, the largest market in the world for live MMA fighting is Southern Ontario.

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We have more UFC fans than Tokyo, L.A., New York, or Chicago. At last count, there were at least ten MMA gyms in the 416 (to say nothing of 905 and beyond). I know a lawyer who passes no fewer than three on his way to work every morning.

The UFC, conversely, adores Toronto. A few days ago, it announced that it is opening an office here. Oddly, this isn't actually good news for my artsy, violence-appreciating friends, or any other Toronto MMA lover, for that matter. And the reason is that Toronto the Good is still very much just that.

Dalton McGuinty could rewrite the rules to allow live MMA events with the stroke of a pen. A lot of people would like him to do just that. There have been letter-writing, petition, and e-mail campaigns.

Thus far, however, Mr. McGuinty has steadfastly refused. When asked to explain, he recently quipped, "If I was to knock on 1,000 Ontario family doors and ask them for their top three concerns, I'd be surprised if anybody said, 'Well, you know… we've got to start this new kind of mixed martial arts in Ontario.'"

All of which tells you how much time Dalton spends knocking on people's doors.

If he did, he would find rather a lot of those families huddled around the 60-inch flatscreen. He would find that some of those doing the cheering are women, who make up almost 50 per cent of the attendees at UFC events.

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And he would find them cheering for Georges St-Pierre, the welterweight UFC champion from Montreal, who was named Canadian Athlete of the Year for two years running by Rogers Sportsnet, but who is, nevertheless, banned from practising his craft in the city in which Rogers Sportsnet - and Dalton McGuinty - have their offices.

No, the real problem with UFC is that it's, how to put it, unseemly. There is blood. There is the sound of skin impacting with skin. There is thrilling trash talk and an egregious quantity of tattoos. More blood may be shed in a single UFC match than during an entire season of CSI. Some of the fighters, furthermore, look like meatheads (though most of them are shockingly articulate). The president of UFC, a balding and foul-mouthed former aerobics instructor, often sounds like a meathead.

This simply will not stand. Not here in the capital of Upper Canada, where we have a long-standing tradition of nurturing our unseemly indulgences behind closed doors. McGuinty may be Catholic, but he is channelling his inner Presbyterian, acting in fine Tory tradition and saving the poor and wretched Upper Canadian rabble from themselves.

It wasn't that long ago, don't forget, that when we visited the LCBO, we filled out an order form and were subsequently handed the contraband in a paper bag, which we drank at home - alone - after a hard day's work.

That, thankfully, has changed. LCBO wine consultants, ethnic dining and the forthcoming Pride parade are all signs of Ontarians coming to terms with their own true nature. But we still have a long way to go. Only the brave or the stupid would bring up UFC in polite company.

All of which means my UFC-loving friends will have to travel to those international symbols of vice and moral depravity known as Montreal and Vancouver if they want to watch two pugilists duke it out dude-against-dude. Then again, they could go to a Leafs game. The puck drops in four months, and the gloves won't be far behind.

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