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Town council pulls plug on Watson Lake fights

Watson Lake has scrapped a mixed martial arts, kickboxing and boxing event planned for September. Town councillors cancelled Quest for the Title VIII after meeting with local RCMP on Tuesday.

Watson Lake has scrapped a mixed martial arts, kickboxing and boxing event planned for September.

Town councillors cancelled Quest for the Title VIII after meeting with local RCMP on Tuesday. The decision comes after Yukon fighters were selected and tickets were printed.

“The unfortunate part is that the town was gung-ho for this,” said Watson Lake Mayor Richard Durocher. “Anything like this in a community our size is a bonus economically and it does shine a positive light on our community.

“But we ran into a legal snag in that mixed martial arts hasn’t got a sanctioning body in the Yukon that can oversee these fights and in the eyes of the Crown, from my understanding, if it goes on, it could be construed as criminal activity.

“So until the Yukon government wants to put a sanctioning body in place to oversee mixed martial arts fighting, the Crown may or may not look upon it in a favourable light.”

Town council voted unanimously in favour of hosting the event when promoter Keith Varga first proposed it in May. Varga even worked with the International Sport Karate Association in creating an official Watson Lake Athletic Commission to sanction the one professional bout that was to headline the event.

Whitehorse’s two MMA clubs - Avalanche MMA and Chaos Combat Club - each had six fighters on the fight card. The Yukon Amateur Boxing Association also began the process of selecting athletes to enter the ring in Watson Lake.

Every fight was to be an amateur bout featuring a Yukoner versus a British Columbian with one exception. The event was to feature the first-ever kickboxing world title bout in the Yukon.

Upon learning of the town council’s decision, Varga was stoic.

“My grandfather taught me two things: One, if you do not have anything nice to say, say nothing at all,” said Varga in an email to the News. “Two, once you say you are going to do something, do everything in your power to see it through.”

Though Watson Lake is off the table as a location for Quest for the Title, the event will still take place.

Within a day of the council’s decision, Varga announced he will hold the event in October on Vancouver Island, the location of the first seven Quest for the Title events.

“I told the Yukon fighters I would do my best to give them the opportunity to compete and I will continue to try to make that happen for them,” said Varga, a pilot working in Watson Lake for the summer. “I will continue working with the Yukon sponsors who were going to sponsor the event in Watson as well as securing new sponsors who are willing to help create this opportunity for the Yukon athletes. I will do my best to raise the funds to bring the Yukon team down to the event on Vancouver Island.

“This is a totally unexpected turn of events and I will do my best to offer all of the Yukon athletes who committed to fight on the Quest for the Title event, the opportunity to compete. The good news is that MMA bouts are allowed on the Island, so there will be no issue with that.”

The RCMP’s concerns over the legality of the event does not mean MMA will never see the light of day in the territory. Yukon MP Ryan Leef, a former amateur MMA fighter, has been working to push through a bill that will see the sport regulated at the national level. It would make the formation of provincial and territorial sanctioning bodies easier to create. In fact, had Quest for the Title been set for a later date, potentially there could have been time to persuade the Yukon Government to create a sanctioning body.

“The other thing we ran up against was timelines,” said Durocher. “It’s too short of a time to lobby the government to do this… and it wouldn’t happen before September 29.

“I’m really upset with it all, the fact that isn’t going to take place in Watson Lake,” added Durocher, who had friends from down south planning on coming to the Yukon for the event.

“I apologize to everyone involved, especially Keith, because Keith put a lot of effort into it. I know our municipal council was behind it 100 per cent until this turn of events.

“If it ever comes our way again and things are in place to make it happen, it’s definitely welcome in Watson Lake.”

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