Giving Ottawa an ultimate fighting chance

Wanda O'Brien, Centretown News

Wanda O’Brien, Centretown News

Nabil “the Thrill” Katib trains for an upcoming competition.

Achilles locks, arm bars, clinches, and heel hooks. These are things one can expect to see at any mixed martial arts event. And the controversial sport is becoming so popular that these terms are now common vernacular for many sports fans.

MMA competition is coming to the Ottawa region again amid excitement and some frustration.  A Canadian-based company, Warrior-1 MMA, is putting on its first event ever, called W-1: Inception on Saturday, March 28.  

“Fans can expect to see some of the best fights ever in the area,” says Alex Caporicci, the matchmaker for the event.

The headline fight on the card for the evening is between former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Carlos “the Ronin” Newton, and Ottawa’s own Nabil “the Thrill” Khatib.

The event is set to take place at Gatineau’s 4,000-seat Robert Guertin arena, and is expected to sell out.

But don’t expect to see a similar event on this side of the river anytime soon.  MMA events are illegal in Ontario.

This is because of an interpretation of Section 83 of the Criminal Code which deems “prize fighting” illegal.

One exception to the Section 83 rule states that:  

“A boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and 40 grams each in mass, or any boxing contest 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, shall be deemed not to be a prize fight.”

Despite this, Ontario is one of only two provinces that currently ban these events.

Other provinces treat it much like boxing – using athletic commissions to regulate the sport.

Khatib, who owns the Team Bushido gym in Ottawa, thinks the ban has a lot to do with widespread misconceptions about ultimate fighting.

“When the UFC got started, it was kind of gross,” he says.

And it was, by most standards. In the early 1990s, the sport used to include throat punches, groin strikes and very few rules.

Today, there are clearly defined rules for safety and trained referees who will stop a fight at any sign of danger.  

Still, not everyone considers MMA a sport. U.S. Senator John McCain famously called it “human cockfighting.”

Closer to home, Gatineau municipal councillor Frank Thérien says it should be banned in Gatineau, just like in Ontario.

“I don’t think it’s a sport. I think Ontario got it right. I certainly wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren participating in it,” he says.

Cities have the ability to ban the events within their jurisdiction even if they are permitted in the province.

But Gatineau council voted on the issue last year, and the majority of councillors disagreed with Thérien and voted to keep the events.

According to Caporicci, Ottawa is losing revenue to Quebec by not allowing MMA.

“The economic impact of MMA in Ontario would be huge, and in this day and age, anything positive to the economy is essential,” he says. “And the sport has established itself as safe and well regulated.”

Ultimate fighting may seem barbaric to some, but its participants include well-respected local personalities.

Khatib is a respected business owner in Ottawa, honoured as a finalist in the 2008 Business of the Year category by the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

Another competitor on Saturday night’s fight card is Glen Kulka, a well-known radio host on the Team 1200.

And in Khatib’s gym, there is actually a photograph mounted on the wall of Newton, the man Khatib is getting ready to fight inside a cage this weekend.

“He’s a nice guy,” says Khatib. “We’ll shake hands before the fight, shake hands after the fight, and then I’ll buy him a beer.”