Ontario Athletic Commission: The Ugly Consequence Of Hypocrisy

Pt. 2

Before you begin the second portion, please take a few minutes to review the opening article

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During my last piece, the focus was aimed at the OAC, and specifically Ken Hayashi, and his apparent grudge against the sport of MMA in Ontario. Quotes from the man himself were on display, and his hypocrisy and interpretation of a vague statute in the Criminal Code of Canada were shown in detail. But today, we will look into the recent history of Mr. Hayashi, and the OAC, because not only has his stance against MMA, and to a certain extent, boxing, become a talking point for all involved, it is his “safety first” mantra and “we will follow the law” motivation that seems to be his guideline to martyr status.

As we touched on earlier, Hayashi used the 2007 death of MMA fighter Sam Vasquez as a major point in his stance against MMA in Ontario. Claiming that had this death occurred in Canada, the federal government would be in position to consider legal action against the sanctioning province, it is the OAC’s actions during a professional boxing match this past April that has raised several eyebrows.

On April 12, 2016, Guillermo Herrera entered the ring in the Fairmont Royal York hotel, located in downtown Toronto. At the time of this bout, Herrera carried a 9-3-4 record, and was scheduled to face the 6-1 Shakell Phinn in a Light Heavyweight bout. Professional boxing limits Light Heavyweights to a maximum of 175 pounds, but Herrera had competed primarily as a Cruiserweight during his 16 bout career, which is capped at 200 pounds. Now while fighters competing in different weight classes is nothing new to the combat sports world, in Ontario, it can be devastating.

The OAC holds the pre bout weigh-ins the day of the bout, which meant that Herrera was cutting a massive amount of weight to reach the Light Heavyweight limit after being licensed by the OAC to compete at this weight. Of course, Herrera may have been planning the move long before the day off the weigh-in, so this may have been simply a situation that gained publicity due to the events that followed. However, same day weigh-ins are generally frowned upon by many governing bodies in the MMA and boxing world, and the OAC’s practice has raised many red flags.

Another issue with this bout was the fact that Herrera had not received the required permit from the Mexican authorities. While this can be taken many ways, it boils down to the assumption that Herrera was not cleared by Mexico to compete, yet was welcomed by Ontario. But perhaps the most alarming issue in this situation was the hand wrapping. Ontario has generally been of the mindset that limiting the amount and length of handwrap a fighter can use is a proper safety measure, despite objections from the WBC and many other governing bodies. Add in the fact that it is now being questioned whether or not the events promoter had proper medical insurance, disaster seemed inevitable. And sadly, it struck.

Herrera was defeated by Phinn via and 8th round knockout, which is not uncommon in boxing. But what followed after the fight has many pointing fingers at the OAC and their perceived safety first measures. Following the loss, Herrera appeared to be of good health, so the OAC doctors headed back to the dressing rooms, as per usual protocol. But soon after, something felt wrong for Herrera. Walking back to his stool and answering questions from his cornerman, Herrera fell unconscious and collapsed. As his cornerman frantically searched for medical staff at the event, none were found for between 5 to 10 minutes. An injury in boxing is nothing new, but in this scenario, Herrera and his team had some serious questions.

In a statement to the Toronto Star, cornermen Noel Mejía and Rey Morales stated:

“I was scared. Rey yelled for the doctor and the doctor wasn’t there.”

“Boxers assume a risk, but it all depends. You know you might get hurt, but you know there’s going to be a doctor right there. If they tell you there might not be a doctor right there, you might think twice about the risk you’re assuming.”

Morales also stated that boxers who are knocked out are examined by doctors immediately and wondered why this was not the case in Herrera’s instance. When a doctor finally did return, Herrera was sent to St. Michael’s hospital, where it was revealed he had suffered a broken blood vessel in his brain. In a comment taken from the Star article:

Ontario’s Athletics Control Act requires promoters to purchase liability insurance worth at least $2 million covering “possible injury sustained by members of the public or officials or property damage,” but not the fighters themselves. While Hayashi refused interview requests, an email from a commission spokesperson says other Canadian jurisdictions don’t have mandatory insurance for fighters.

The Shaw Festival, which played host to the event, had executive director Tim Jennings speak on the incident, saying:

“It’s a bit of a concern to me that anybody would enter this kind of thing without a clear sense of the insurance. I’m not blaming anyone . . . I would have assumed more of a relationship between the commission and the boxers.”

Also speaking was the events matchmaker, Jim Gentle, who said:

“There’s no provision that a fighter has to bring their own insurance. It’s a personal decision on behalf of the athlete.”

It is difficult to place the blame on a single party here, but let’s go back and examine a statement from Ken Hayashi on who is to blame for fighter injury or death while competing in Ontario:

Hayashi’s major qualm with the sport of MMA appears to be the risk of injury or death. Citing professional MMA fighter Sam Vasquez’s death in 2007, Hayashi feels that had this death occurred in Canada, the federal government would be in position to consider legal action against the sanctioning province, stating:

“It’s breaking the law. The federal law supersedes provincial law.”

While this was a boxing match, and not MMA, the statement holds true regardless. MMA and boxing are both legal in the province of Ontario, so if Hayashi believes that injury or death during a MMA event would possibly compel the federal government to consider legal action against the sanctioning province, why would the province of Ontario take the steps noted in this bout, and then allow it to go on as scheduled?

Hayashi has a lengthy history of cancelling events or bouts for safety reasons, yet allows athletes to compete without promoters insuring them, or informing fighters that they may not be insured. The WBC has been in contact with the OAC for several years, basically pleading with them to change the procedures set in place, which obviously has fallen on deaf ears. In a press release, which was made public on April 26, the WBC stated:

The World Boxing Council has been communicating with the boxing authorities of the Province of Ontario, Canada, for several years. The WBC considers the Ontario Athletic Commission’s boxing regulations to be dangerous for the participants. Accordingly, the WBC has pleaded with the OAC to comply with the established world safety standards applicable to professional boxing.

The OAC conducts its official weigh-in ceremony the very day of the fight. There is ample medical evidence that the OAC’s weigh-in practice is dangerous and can be detrimental to the health and safety of the fighters.

Ontario also limits the amount and length of material that can be used to wrap the hands of the boxers. Again, that practice goes against the widely accepted standards around the world.

On April 12, 2016, Guillermo Herrera lost a fight in Toronto by knockout in 8 rounds and today is bedridden at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Besides the OAC’s dangerous pre-fight practices, it appears that there were several irregularities in connection with the fight. The Mexican fighter was allowed to travel from Mexico to Toronto without the required permit from the competent Mexican authorities. While Mr. Herrera fights as a cruiserweight, the OAC licensed him to fight in the lower light heavyweight division. Therefore, he was forced to lose a substantial amount of weight the day of the fight. At this point, it is uncertain whether the event’s promoter had medical insurance. That is one of several facts that are being investigated

In the meantime, the WBC considers the OAC’s practices dangerous for the boxers. Therefore, the WBC will not sanction any WBC event in which the OAC regulations apply until such time that those dangerous regulations are changed, thus affording standard safety and protection measures to boxers in that jurisdiction.

It is the comment from Herrera himself though that should ring true for any athlete competing anywhere:

“We go into the ring not knowing if we’ll come out in good shape. There should be insurance because we’re risking our lives. We’re human beings. We’re not animals.”

How can an athletic commision that preaches safety from the rooftops allow anything remotely close to this to happen? It is ironic that while many promotions and fighters are being forced out of the province of Ontario, the measures set in place by the OAC might be reason enough to not want to compete under their watch anyway.

While Herrera has appeared to have recovered from his injuries, he was deeply concerned about being left to cover the brunt of the medical costs stemming from the incident. Spending nearly 3 weeks in hospital, Herrera was left to wonder how he would cover the expenses of his stay. Earning $4000 for the bout, four times more than he would have made competing in his native Mexico, Herrera stated that he makes roughly $100 per week. A fundraising page was created to help Herrera, and if the goal was not reached, the debt would more than likely fall into the hands of Canadian taxpayers.

This story did not have your traditional happy ending, but Herrera does seem to be healthy and moving on with his life. The question now is, why was he put into this situation in the first place? Perhaps Mr. Hayashi and the OAC will one day explain why.

Jasyn Zangari

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