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Transcript of UFC Canada boss Tom Wright’s interview with The Fight Network

By Zach Arnold | August 31, 2010

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I transcribed most of the interview (but not all of it). This interview happened before the Canadian Medical Association passed their resolution calling for a ban on Mixed Martial Arts in the country.

Transcript available in full-page mode.

JOHN POLLOCK: “On August the 14th the Ontario Government announced that they’re going to move forward to regulate and sanction the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Tom Wright was named as the Director of Operations for UFC Canada just this past May and he was here in our office. I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom, where we discussed the announcement and what comes next as the UFC plans to invade Ontario in 2011.”

“Tom, August 14th, 2010, a huge day for the province of Ontario when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, the day that the history books can officially begin to be written in terms of the progression of the sport but you’ve just been heading up the UFC officers here in Canada for under three months and already this huge announcement that did catch a lot of people off guard on Saturday.”

TOM WRIGHT: “Well, John, you’re right, it was a great day for Mixed Martial Arts, for our sport in not only this province but in the country and specifically for us it’s an exciting time. But, you know what? We’ve been working with the Ontario Government for at least the past two years and as you know when you’re trying to build a new sport, when you’re trying to enter into new, you know, kinds of territories, these things take time and so I think the August 14th announcement was that culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of really committed people and I give a lot of credit to McGuinty’s government, Sophia Aggelonitis, who really did her homework and listened to Ontarians but went out and actually got some facts and talked to stakeholders and looked at studies and really determined that our sport has come a long way and that it’s the right thing for the athletes for our sport that it be regulated and the only way it gets regulated is for it to be sanctioned and if you don’t sanction it, it’s going to go underground and then you’re not going to have safe competitions, you’re not going to have consistent competitions, so you know I think it is a great day and there’s still a lot of hard work to go, you know that.”

JOHN POLLOCK: “Is that a common thread you’ve seen, Tom, in terms of critics of the sport who are not familiar with the sport that once they actually sit down, take in a Mixed Martial Arts event, a lot of preconceived notions are put to rest at that point on top of the facts and figures that are associated with the sport?”

TOM WRIGHT: “John, you’re absolutely right and what I’ve found is that our fan base, you know, our fans they’re incredibly avid. You can’t find any more passionate fans than we have in MMA. But then there’s this huge chasm between the passionate fans and the regular sport people or regular, you know, consumers that really don’t have any understanding and so they have awareness of it but no understanding so that’s one of our biggest challenges is the educational program that’s required. And, you know, Government officials were a Class-A example. You know, people have these misconceptions about our sport. They think that our athletes are all on steroids. They think that the competition’s aren’t fair. They think there isn’t a Unified set of rules. But once you sit down with them and you talk with them and you provide them with the details, you provide them with the facts so they can make informed, objective, rational decisions. We don’t expect everybody to be a fan but all we want them to do is make an objective, have an opinion based on fact not that’s based on fallacy.”

JOHN POLLOCK: “Do you see a lot of comparisons to another part of your life, overseeing the Canadian Football League and dealing with critics of football? But in that case, football much more ingrained in the culture because of the history behind it. Do you see some common links between criticisms of both?”

TOM WRIGHT: “Well, you know what, actually not really, John. I think the actual connection that I see the Canadian Football League and our league, the UFC and our sport, is that the athletes themselves are very similar in as much as they’re incredibly passionate, they’re incredibly talented, but what they really are is accessible and they’re approachable. I mean you take a look at most professional athletes and you think of the major leagues, you think of the NFL, you think of Major League Basketball, you think of the NBA, the NHL, and then I think of the CFL and the UFC and I see in those two sports, those two leagues athletes that are approachable and they’re accessible and they really want to get out and engage and have contact in their communities and I think that’s one of the real commonalities between those two sports. I think that, you know, football traces its roots back to the 1800s to rugby. The CFL, as you know, the 98th Gray Cup is going to happen in Edmonton this year, so it’s been around a long time. I think that maybe some of the fallacies that people have regarding football, which is an interesting one, is that they don’t see it as much of a contact combat sport as say Mixed Martial Arts and one of the things I’ve tried to point out is that there’s more instance of serious injuries, serious head injuries, overall serious injuries in football than there are in Mixed Martial Arts, but people don’t make that connection because they see football players with helmets and then they see Mixed Martial Arts where there might be a lot of blood on the mat. Well, those are superficial injuries as you know. You watch a football game and I tell you, on the offensive and defensive line, you want to see combat, you want to see contact? That’s where it happens as well and there are studies coming out in the United State that actually show that in the United States, there are more serious injuries in, are you ready for this, competitive cheerleading than there are in Mixed Martial Arts and so I mean that’s, you know, there’s all sorts of examples but one of our jobs as the promoters of the game and to try to build the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is to dispel those notions and make sure that people are forming their perspective from information that’s real.”

JOHN POLLOCK: “Now, in the wake of this announcement in Ontario, we haven’t heard any statement from the Ontario Athletic Commission and Ken Hayashi. What has their reaction been and what is your relationship been like with Ken Hayashi, who has been a staunch opponent of Mixed Martial Arts coming to the province? Is he more open to the sport now with this announcement?”

TOM WRIGHT: “Well, John, it’s early days. I mean, you have to remember that it was, the announcement was only made last Saturday and I know we’ve already reached out to Ken Hayashi, Marc Ratner, and our US offices has spoken to Ken and I’ve reached out to him as well and our plan is to sit down with him as quickly as possible to make sure that he understands that we’re here to be a resource for them, that we’re here to support his efforts. There’s a lot of work that has done but you also has to remember that Ontario is not the first province or the first state to actually regulate this sport. There’s a lot of other jurisdictions that have gone through this process. The minister said that the standard that they were going to be looking at is the state of New Jersey. Obviously there’s 40, you know, 45 other states that have already gone through this process and there are six other provinces that have started this process. So, we will help Mr. Hayashi and help him through the work that has to be done and we’re here to support it but we’re also here to make sure that we do this properly. We haven’t set any timetables that say it has to be done by this date. It’s the Government’s role and we’re here to support the Government in this case.”

JOHN POLLOCK: “Now, another story that came out over the past week was the British Columbia Medical Association, Mr. Ian Gillespie, they’re trying to table a notion to the CMA, the Canadian Medical Association, trying to ban the sport within the country and I’m curious if they have tried to contact you because in their lone statement that they’ve released, I’ve found quite a number of fundamental flaws to their issues and some of their radio interviews this week it seems that it’s like what we talking earlier, very elementary knowledge of the sport. Have they reached out to you? Has there been any dialogue between both you yourself and the British Columbia Medical Association?”

TOM WRIGHT: “Well, John, no we haven’t had any direct dialogue and we’re following this very closely but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that, you know, you’re seeing some really rudimentary knowledge of our sport, some decisions that are made or proposals that are being recommended based on either old facts or no facts. Dr. Gillespie I believe himself has admitted that he has not ever attended a Mixed Martial Art event, had never watched on one, and was relying on data that was going back to the late 1990s so I think that, you know, we’ve reached out in different ways to the BC Medical Associations. We want to make sure that they provide a fair and balanced approach on this issue and that they look at the facts and we provided them with a lot of different facts, the John Hopkins study which I’m sure you’ve seen, you know what that one talks about in terms of the incidence of traumatic head injuries in other sports compared to ours and that it’s so much more prevalent in boxing than in ours, and I think at the end I mean it goes back to what we were chatting about earlier, John. You know, one of the reasons why you want a sport regulated is so that the safety of the athletes is protected and in the absence of regulation you’ll drive the sport underground and people will get hurt and so if I’m a medical association, I really want to make sure that those kinds of principles and those kinds of standards and those kinds of requirements are put in place and frankly, that’s what we’re here to help with. So we’re more than happy to sit down with BC Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and help develop those standards so that athlete safety is taken care of.”

JOHN POLLOCK: “One of the interesting parts about the province of Ontario when it comes to regulating boxing is that they’ve instituted same-day weigh-ins for boxers so they cannot gain x amount of pounds prior to a fight. Is that something that we could see incorporated into Mixed Martial Arts or is it something that’s still a detail that has to be worked out with the Ontario Athletic Commission?”

TOM WRIGHT: “I think that will be a detail that will have to be worked out with the athletic commission and you know it’s a good point that you bring up, John. I’m not sure whether or not it’s a consistent requirement or at least a consistent standard for MMA events across North America. I know for the UFC, we always have our weigh-ins on the day before. If a fight’s on a Saturday, we’ll do the weigh-ins on a Friday. So I’m not sure if that’s consistent across all 45, 46 states in the U.S. but those are the kind of conversations that we’ll obviously have with Ken (Hayashi) and with members of the Athletic Commission here in Ontario so we can establish those standards.”

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