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House of Commons passes law that takes MMA out of legal limbo

Cain Velasquez, left, lands a punch to the face of Antonio Silva in the first round of the UFC 160 mixed martial arts heavyweight title bout, Saturday, May 25, 2013, in Las Vegas. Velasquez won by technical knockout.

Julie Jacobson/AP

The House of Commons has passed a bill legalizing contact sports such as mixed martial arts.

The legislation, which originated in the Senate, takes certain fighting sports, including tae kwon do and karate as well as the popular sport of MMA, out of legal limbo.

The sports were not technically covered under prize-fighting law, making it difficult to regulate them and protect the safety of fighters.

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The bill passed the Commons easily with 267 members of parliament in favour and only nine opposed.

The Criminal Code section on prize-fighting was last changed in 1934, long before the rise of the new fighting sports.

Section 83.1 of the Criminal Code only exempted boxing.

The section said anyone who "engages as a principal in a prize fight," encourages, promotes or is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter is guilty of an offence — unless the "boxing contest" is "held with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board or commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the legislature of a province for the control of sport within the province."

The section also allowed "a boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass."

Some jurisdictions ignored the antiquated wording of the law.

The UFC, the largest promoter of MMA fighting, lobbied for the legislative change. As it has done in the U.S., the UFC has pushed for government to sanction the sport.

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"This is a major development for the sport of mixed martial arts as we now have a consistent legislative framework for Canada and its provinces," Tom Wright, the UFC's director of Canadian operations, said in a statement.

Liberal Massimo Pacetti, who supported the bill, said it's an important move.

"We are laying the groundwork for the general acceptance of these sports across the country," he said during the debate.

Supporters say MMA bouts are no more dangerous than boxing matches.

Others say they may be safer, because MMA fighters can quit when they want, while boxers tend to fight until there's a knockout or the referee steps in.

Since 2008, the UFC has hosted 12 Canadian events split between Montreal (six), Toronto (three), Vancouver (two) and Calgary (one).

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Winnipeg is set to host UFC 161 on June 15.

The Edmonton-based Maximum Fighting Championship is the largest Canadian promoter.

In most jurisdictions, MMA is regulated by the same athletic bodies that oversee boxing.

Currently, MMA is sanctioned at a provincial level in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, while it has been sanctioned on a municipal level within Alberta, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories.

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