Contrary to playful belief, the upper half of the North American continent isn’t frozen and uninhabitable. Okay, it isn’t uninhabitable. And although hockey is still Canada’s national sport, there’s more fighting to be found than that which takes place on the ice. From Jason MacDonald to Sam Stout to Joe Doerksen, Canada has provided longtime MMA fans with plenty of fond memories. However, the road to MMA prominence has recently had its trials and tribulations for our northerly neighbors.

The year 2012 dealt a brutal triple death-blow to the Canadian MMA scene. With almost no warning, Instinct MMA, Score Fighting Series and Wreck MMA were all squelched from existence. For a while, promotions seemed to be coming in and riding out on the same Chinook. By the end of the year, the largest nation in the western hemisphere had been reduced to a single major promotion and a handful of struggling regionals. But MMA is a sport that never says die. Now, as 2013 revs up, Canada looks to rediscover its groove and scrap its way back to fighting acclaim.

Last night, fans witnessed the rebirth of Wreck MMA in an event that did more than hint at a resurgence of Canadian mixed martial arts. The event was Wreck’s first since its doors were closed last fall, and it was held under the newly christened “Wreck MMA 2.0” banner. Not only was a quality promotion resurrected overnight, a new star was born. In a mega-upset, Edmonton’s Michael Banin finished OAMA standout “Relentless” Randy Turner via guillotine choke in under one minute. Banin took the non-title main event fight on less than 48 hours’ notice, replacing Antonio Banuelos, who withdrew. In the co-main event, Mark Holst improved to 12-5 by defeating Richie Whitson via armbar late in the second round. Wreck MMA—which had held ten events under its original incarnation and is notorious for its two trips to Afghanistan to support Canadian troops—lives on.

Aggression FC was one of the few Canadian promotions to keep its head above water in 2012, but when its Contender’s Series was canceled early this year, things looked bleak. Then, after several months of silence, AFC made its own comeback. Just last weekend, in the spirit of Tim Horton, AFC staged an unprecedented “double double,” holding events in two different towns on the same night, with each event having a belt on the line.

It was Winnipeg Academy’s Curtis Brigham who stole the show at AFC 16 in his victory over Mike Adams. Brigham took home not only a vacant title, but “Fight of the Night” and “Submission of the Night” honors in his four-round effort, which culminated in an armbar finish. Credit to Adams for putting up one hell of a fight and earning his half of the bonus. At the sister event in Edmonton, Bellator veteran Ryan Ford shook the Shaw Conference Centre with a flying left hook bomb into the guard of Brendan Tierney, rendering Tierney unconscious. Also at AFC 17, Razak Al-Hassan captured the vacant light heavyweight title by finishing Tim Chemelli via rear-naked choke in the first round.

Future AFC fight cards will feature Ford, Brigham, Shane Campbell, Sheldon Westcott, Stephen Beaumont, Sabah Fadai and undefeated Michael Hill. Although the promotion doesn’t recruit many known veterans, AFC certainly showcases a nice ensemble of evolving prospects. And it’s always nice to see a regional promotion that actually covers an entire region.

After some inconsistencies last year, whimsical eccentric Mark Pavelich and his Maximum Fighting Championship continue a strong run in 2013 with their May 10 event, titled “True Grit.” Headlining this stacked card is a heavyweight title showdown between Calgary’s Smealinho Rama and Chris “Beast Boy” Barnett. Additional fights include a middleweight tilt between TUF/Bellator veteran Sam Alvey and Edmonton’s Chase Degenhardt, a lightweight affair featuring Iron Tiger Muay Thai prospect Mukai Maromo and Saskatoon’s own Kurt Southern, and another middleweight tussle between Luke “Hayabusa” Harris and Montana’s Jason Zentgraf. With names like these, MFC remains Lord of the Ring in the new world.

Plagued with cancellations throughout 2012, Extreme Cage Combat delivered its 15th event last month which included a bantamweight title war between Syd Barnier and Stéphane Pelletier. Three weeks later, ECC churned out its second event of 2013—ECC 16: Proving Ground—equaling its total for all of 2012. The promotion’s best offering yet is shaping up for May and will fall on the same weekend as the aforementioned MFC card.

ECC 17: Rise of the Champions will feature a main event middleweight title fight between Titans MMA standout Mike Kent and undefeated prospect Elias Theodorou. Also appearing on this card are Score Fighting Series vet Tristan Johnson, Bellator vet Jesse Gross and undefeated featherweight finisher Gavin Tucker. Will ECC hold it together this year and establish themselves as one of Canada’s elite regional promotions? Time will tell.

A couple Canadian upstarts to watch out for are Havoc FC and Challenge MMA. HFC is based out of Calgary, Alberta, and is the brainchild of former MMA fighters Ryan Machan, Jesse Fox and Gary Vig. Challenge MMA is run by Gary Chartrand, longtime manager of Steve “The Boss” Bossé. Its debut fight card has the high-profile Bossé going toe-to-toe with equally powerful striker Martin Desilets. This main event will be complemented by a welterweight battle between two more Canadian prospects, Alex Garcia and Ryan Dickson.

Other burgeoning promotions north of the border to keep an eye on are Fivestar Fight League, Unified MMA and Elite 1 MMA. Holding a steady course is Battlefield Fight League, with two solid events in the books this year and two more scheduled for spring. And deserving of a special mention is Hard Knocks Fighting Championship for its local fighter support and ongoing charity efforts. It’s a little-known fact that Hard Knocks is where Ronda Rousey secured her second career MMA victory.

Despite losing two of its most promising promotions last year and encountering numerous other obstacles, Canada is clearly back on the warpath, elevating talent from all corners of the permafrost. The big question, of course, is the identity of the next Georges St-Pierre. Obviously, UFC recruits Jordan Mein and Rory MacDonald are closest to the task, but there are plenty of others yet to cross the border who could have the right stuff for future legendary status. Although shrouded in question marks, Steve Bossé could blast his way into the limelight in 2013 with a couple more solid finishes. Exciting prospects such as Jesse Ronson, Graham Spencer, Curtis Brigham, Josh Hill and Ryan Ford shouldn’t have much trouble punching their tickets to a bigger stage after another victory or two. And rookies like Ryan Dickson and Elias Theodorou could certainly scrap their way to stardom should they continue their recent successes.

While hockey may always be Canada’s sport of preference, MMA is beginning to carve its niche in the snowy tundra. It’s been a rocky road to say the least, but as things begin to stabilize, expect Canada to secure its mixed martial arts status and send more representatives in search of gold. To put it a little differently, hold onto your tuques and get ready to wreck havoc with maximum aggression as those crazy Canucks usher in an exciting new age filled with enough violence and poutine to satisfy even the largest appetite.

One thing’s for sure, they’re not just blowing snow in the great white north.

Photo: Ryan Ford (R) connects with a kick (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.