The Ultimate Fighting Championships – the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization – kicked off its foray in Vancouver Thursday morning with a couple of superb events that were beneficial to both fans and the community at large. Mixed martial arts, however, does not always carry a great reputation. It’s often painted as a brutal, violent sport. The stigma is a real and has had political consequences. In the late 1990s, the state of New York banned the sport.
Almost two decades later, earlier in the year, this ban was finally removed and in November the UFC will finally host its first event in The Big Apple. Still, there are people who believe they hold the moral high ground when they say the sport should be prohibited; an irrational group that is okay with boxing, wrestling, muay thai, jiu jitsu and other sports which together manifest MMA, but not the conglomerate itself. Perhaps it’s the brash bravado that some athletes boast, or maybe it’s the sight of blood and instant knock outs that turn off the faint at heart. Regardless of their opposition, these people should take a second look at what the UFC is doing in Canada with much appreciation: their appreciation should be directed at Tom Wright, the UFC’s Director of Operations for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Tom – who adamantly refuses to be called “Mr.Wright” regardless raising three well-established daughters and achieving many commendable accolades such as being the Commissioner of the CFL, President of Adidas Canada, and President and CEO of Salomon Group North America – is proudest of his 34 years of serving as the Chairman of the Special Olympics. In May of 2010 he was asked to open the UFC’s Canada office. In doing so, he has brought a to the company an air of humility and compassion not often associated with combat sports. Independent Sports News had the pleasure of catching up with Tom at Thursdays open workout and charity event.
At Diaz Combat Sports in Vancouver’s Chinatown, a group of 15 Special Olympics athletes were on the mat, lined up in front of UFC fighters Stephen Thompson, Joseph Benavidez, and Elias Theodorou who held pads for them to throw kicks and punches at. While the open workout session was truly a fan-pleasing event, it’s safe to say no one in Vancouver was as happy as those 15 Special Olympics athletes who got plenty of personal attention and souvenirs from the kind UFC fighters.
The entire room was filled with smiles; it was hard to rejoice at the joy the Special Olympics athletes and the enthusiasm of the UFC fighters. We asked Tom if this type of event preceded all UFC events and he said they preceded all the events he is in charge of. You see, Tom founded a program called UFC Community Works. “We’ve been partnering with the Special Olympics for 2-3 years. We want to bring our athletes close the community.” He went on to add “if you’re fortunate enough to live in a great country and to have a great education and be able to have a nice career, I think giving back to your community is fundamental. My wife and I have always taught that to our kids that.”
Individuals like Tom demonstrate the essence of the Canadian spirit, and while MMA may have a questionable reputation in the eyes of some naysayers, none can deny that those like Tom are not only changing the image of the sport, but also doing a great service to communities like ours.