Even though MMA is viewed by many as a blood sport, the recent Hard Knocks Fighting Championship, (HK53) fight in Calgary showcased competitors who demonstrated respect and sportsmanship. They fought not only for their titles, but also for their community by supporting local charities.

In the ring

“The fighters are giving back for a cause, they’re actually fighting for a reason every time they get into our ring." —Amber Boyd

The tension built as they squared away to touch gloves and begin the match. After 30 seconds on the mat, Mackenzie had Laursen in a north-south arm-bar — a move that causes a limb to be torqued against its proper range of motion. Nearly two minutes into the first round, Laursen was forced to the tap out, ending his championship title match.

body fight

Josh Mackenzie (blue) holding Mac Laursen (grey) in an arm bar seconds before tapping-out in the first round. Hard Knocks 53 at Winsport’s Markin MacPhail arena. Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by James Cox

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) started in the early 1990's with minimal rules and regulations. The lack of restrictions appealed to many. Fighters from all types of martial arts backgrounds squared off within the cage-style ring — only one coming out victorious. 

Safety and conduct improving 

There was nothing to prevent moves like eye-gouges, knees and elbows to the head while a fighter is pinned to the ground. Unlike other popular fighting sports such as boxing, fighters were not required to cover their hands.

Because of the lack of regulations and rules, UFC was viewed as dangerous and violent. U.S. senator for Arizona, John McCain, witnessed a UFC fight in 1996 and described it as “human cock-fighting.” He fought against the organization and so did some states. That led to bans of “no-holds-barred” fighting in 36 states—the state of New York was the last of these states to end the ban, doing so mid 2016.

Still, the UFC made its way back into the sports world. Outright bans against the sport were lifted and new policies were introduced adding enough rules and regulations to satisfy authorities, protect fighter safety and minimize substantial bodily injuries.

The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts was established in the state of New Jersey in 2001, which introduced time limits on rounds, fouls including eye-gouging, biting, groin hits, spitting and many others and even approved attire for fighters. These rules have been adopted all over North America.

Despite changes to UFC policies, brutality and unsportsmanlike conduct still make their way into the ring: UFC 43 saw Wes Sims feverishly stepping on Frank Mir's head while holding the cage; cheap below the belt and neck shots were thrown in the 20th World Extreme Cagefighting match in 2006 and Rousimar Palhares was cut by the UFC in 2013 for continuing to hold a heel hook choke hold on his opponent, Mike Pierce, even though Pierce tapped out.

But these examples are the exception and not the rule of a fighter’s conduct within the ring. Many MMA organizations have been established since the UFC’s success and while the sport is still violent, its fighters are showing examples of sportsmanlike competition.

hug fight

Kris Lee from St. John’s, Nfld., (left) and Bruno Cesar (right), from Sao Paulo, Brazil, congratulate each other with a hug after their fight Jan. 27, 2017. The fight that took place at the Markin MacPhail arena at Calgary’s Winsport complex, ended after the second round. Cesar defeated Lee 1:05 minutes into the round by submission. Photo by Stephanie Hagenaars

Many world-famous fighters have fought on the HKFC mat, including the female UFC champion Ronda Rousey. The Jan. 27 event was Hard Knocks’ 53rd live fighting event in just over six years.

Calgary organization, HKFC, is an example of what has been created since the early days of the UFC. The organization has showcased fighters from all over the world, holding frequent events for both male and female competitors. 

Fights raise money for local charities

The HK53 event showcased 20 fighters from across Canada, USA and Brazil. In addition to the 10 pairings of the night, the event featured two title matches — including Laursen’s matchup against MacKenzie.

Half-way through the night, Justin Basra and Thomas Godin, two pro-level MMA fighters, faced each other in the Hard Knocks ring. Both entered with a six-win streak, knowing someone had to lose.

“It’s a big thing when you have an undefeated record so I’ve trained and practiced as hard as I can,” said Basra. “We’re both going to be entering the event undefeated and one of us is going to leave with a loss.”

Basra ended the match 3:43 into the second round with a knockout, ultimately ending Godin’s winning streak. Afterwards, Basra and Godin both displayed nothing but respect and camaraderie. There was no smack talk, shame nor outrage between the two.

Fighters compete in support of charities in Calgary and the surrounding area. Hard Knock’s charity liaison, Amber Boyd, is responsible for connecting charity groups with various Hard Knocks events.

Boyd works with Hard Knocks to donate silent auction prizes to groups and tickets to children and their families, to the HK fighting events. In addition, charity groups have the opportunity to sell 50/50 tickets during each event, to help raise funds for their cause. To date, the organization has donated over $140,000 and groups selling 50/50 tickets are guaranteed to take away $2,000 regardless of how many tickets are sold.

At the January event, that reason was the Girls Hockey Calgary Bantam One Silver team. During the event the team members walked through the hundreds of spectators, selling 50/50 tickets. Trina Cwik, co-manager of the girls’ hockey team, as well as other members, participated scanning tickets at the door as spectators entered the arena.

charity fights

Rylee Pennoyer, 13, (left) and Adria Lubert, 14, (right) attended Hard Knocks Fighting Championship’s 53rd fight, Jan. 27, 2017. The two are players for the Girl’s Hockey Calgary Bantam One Silver team in Calgary, Alta. HKFC, with the help of the Girl’s Hockey Calgary team, sold 50/50 tickets during the event. At least $2,000 of the proceeds will go towards fundraising for the hockey team. Photo by Stephanie Hagenaars

The team first heard about the fundraiser held by HK through word of mouth and figured it would be a great opportunity for the girls.

“We believe our girls need to participate in everything they do,” Cwik said, “because they take ownership of their team.”

Players Rylee Pennoyer, 13, and Adria Lubert, 14, said they were happy to sell 50/50 tickets to assist the team with travel expenses as well as development training.

“Being so close to the fighters and just, like, everyone asking for tickets, it’s really cool,” said Lubert, who with her partner sold more than 100 tickets.

After starting the initiative a couple of years ago, Boyd said the program has grown in popularity. She added events build a sense of community and importance as the fighters are “actually fighting for a reason every time they get into our ring.”

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This article was edited by Cassie Riabko and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.