REGINA -- Mixed martial arts events will soon be legal in Saskatchewan, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship says that's good for athletes.
The government is setting up an athletics commission that will have the authority to sanction professional combative sports, including MMA.
"A provincial athletics commission will help ensure the safety of everyone involved in professional combative sport competitions," Saskatchewan Sport Minister Kevin Doherty said Wednesday.
The move comes after the House of Commons passed a bill in June legalizing contact sports such as MMA.
The legislation makes professional boxing and MMA contests legal in Canada when they have the authorization of a provincial athletics commission.
Only boxing was allowed under the old prize-fighting law, leaving combat sports, including taekwondo, karate and MMA in legal limbo.
Tom Wright, director of UFC operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, says it means athletes won't have to move for their sport. Wright points out that MMA fighter Mitch Clarke is from Saskatchewan, but trains in Edmonton because he couldn't compete professionally in his home province.
Wright also says having legal fights makes it safer for athletes.
"That's the cornerstone of protecting the health and safety of our athletes is to make sure that the sport is properly regulated. Now that an athletic commission is going to be set up in Saskatchewan, that will be the case for all organizations that want to hold a mixed martial arts competition," Wright said in a phone interview from Vancouver.
"Particularly for ourselves, it paves the way for us to be able to bring the UFC to Saskatchewan."
Wright says there is no timeline yet on when that might happen.
Steps are underway to have the commission in Saskatchewan running by next summer.
The commission will be responsible for tracking competitors' fighting history and ensure safety protocols are enforced.
The Saskatchewan Martial Arts Association will sanction and oversee amateur combative sports including mixed martial arts, kickboxing, modified Muay Thai and full-contact karate. The association said in a news release that it will immediately start sanctioning amateur combative sporting events.
"By regulating amateur competitions, we help eliminate unsanctioned fights that put athletes at risk," said association president Tim Oehler.
MMA is currently 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.
The UFC has held 14 shows to date in Canada, with cards in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
Wright has said the UFC will hold a show in Halifax within the next couple of years.