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Reviews positive as Ontario holds first sanctioned mixed martial arts shows

American welterweight Josh (The People's Warrior) Burkman (left) and Jordan (Young Guns) Mein of Lethbridge, Alta., strike a pose during a news conference for " MMA:The Reckoning," in Toronto, Thursday, March 31, 2011. Organizers confirmed that Saturday's show at Casino Rama north of Toronto will be seen by some 5,000.

Neil Davidson

Ontario is officially open for mixed martial arts business and the early reviews are positive.

The regulations are tight and lots of questions are being asked of both the fighters and promoter. But everyone involved with "MMA: The Reckoning" at Casino Rama on Saturday night seemed happy with the first sanctioned MMA show in the province.

None more so than Ontario Athletics Commissioner Ken Hayashi.

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"We set the bar now for our next show. We're going to keep it high and safe and we're off to the races," said a jubilant Hayashi. "I'm really happy, really happy with the way it turned out."

"I'm ecstatic," he added. "I can't wait for the next one and do that one just as good as we did this one."

The next one is next Friday, a Maximum Fighting Championship card at Caesars Windsor. The UFC comes to Toronto on April 30, with 55,000 expected for UFC 129 at Rogers Centre.

Shows are also planned for London, Hamilton and several other sites.

Saturday's show was more notable for its status as the first than for the fighters on display. The talent was willing but limited in most cases.

There were no knockouts on the eight-bout card and only one competitor needed stitches.

Fighters said the Ontario commission was very thorough.

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"They were strict but they weren't overbearing by any means," said former UFC veteran Josh (The People's Warrior) Burkman, beaten in the main event. "They just make sure that the show's ran right and the fighters are taken care of. And I have no problem with that.

"And I have no problems with the way they do the testing and the physicals and the bloodwork. As a fighter, you want those things to be lined up the proper way so fighters are healthy and taken care off.

"I thought the commission was real cool, they were real friendly and I got along with them real well."

Perhaps the biggest names on the card were the referees. (Big) John McCarthy, Dan Miragliotta and Montreal's Yves Lavigne have all worked at the sport's highest level.

As a consequence, Saturday's show was well officiated and the judging - done by officials from Manitoba and Quebec - made sense.

The card seemed to go smoothly in terms of organization and staging. One minor glitch appeared someone forgot the stools the fighter uses between rounds. They didn't show up until the third bout.

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Casino Rama officials were happy that they filled their auditorium with 5,000 people. Another MMA show with promoter Robert Waterman of Knockout Entertainment Canada is set for July 16.

Waterman said thanks to the casino's help the debut show made "a little bit" of profit.

"Not a lot but a little bit," he said.

Promoters in the province may find some difficulties, he suggested without complaint. Not only does Ontario has "very heavy medical regulation," the local commission pays close attention to the matchmaking. Waterman said discrepancies in fighter records resulted in the commission nixing several matchups on the grounds that they weren't competitive.

In some cases, the official website used to check records had not been updated and by the time it was, fighters who had been waiting on a matchup had moved on to another challenge.

Such difficulties aside, Waterman was also bubbling.

"I've had a good night. There's been some hairy, challenging moments getting to this stage. But how can you not be excited and full of beans after a night like that?"

Veteran MMA coach Shawn Tompkins, a native of London, Ont., who now works in Las Vegas, had no complaints.

"Absolutely a positive experience and I would love to bring more fighters here."

Welterweight Jordan (Young Guns) Mein of Lethbridge, Alta., won a decision over Burkman in the main event.

Both fighters gave the evening a thumbs up.

"I was treated well," said the 21-year-old Mein, speaking as if with a heavy cold from a damaged nose. "The crowd was awesome. I loved it."

Burkman said he planned to ask to come back to fight again.

Lightweight Chris (The Polish Hammer) Horodecki of London, Ont., made short work of American David Castillo in the co-main event.

The fight of the night was a lightweight bout between English lightweight Jason (Shotgun) Young and Jorge Britto, a Brazilian who now calls Toronto home.

Young used his striking superiority to win a unanimous decision in an all-action bout that went back and forth, with everything from spinning back fists to head kicks.

For the record, Hamilton welterweight Joel Powell became the first winner in the Ontario sanctioned era when he choked out Brandt Dewsberry of Lethbridge, Alta., at 4:54 of the second round.

The crowd was subdued for most of the night with the evening lacking the loud frenetic vibe of UFC shows. The card also showed more attention to cleanliness than its MMA big brothers, sending someone into the ring with a spray bottle and cloth to remove blood from the canvas.

Most of the fans sat in the sloping auditorium seats at the venue usually reserved for concerts. The hexagon-shaped cage was surrounded by some floor seats with a smaller raised bank of seats on the far side.

Four video screens helped the sightlines.

Fighters entered from one corner balcony, coming down stairs to the floor and the cage.

There have been MMA shows in Ontario before, but they were on First Nations reserves and were not sanctioned by the provincial government.

That changed last August when Ontario announced plans as of Jan. 1 to regulate the sport using the provincial Athletics Control Act, which is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services. The act already sanctioned pro boxing and kickboxing.

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