Why this MMA fighter wants to compete on P.E.I., but can't

Morgan Rhynes has been a professional mixed martial arts fighter for about six years, but he's never fought in front of a hometown crowd.

That's because prize fighting — in MMA, boxing or any combat sport — is illegal on P.E.I.

So Rhynes and the dozen or so other pro fighters on the Island have to travel to other cities to ply their trade.

He says holding fights on P.E.I. would help his career "tremendously."  

"The biggest problem obviously for Island fighters is finding flights," he said.

And the more fights you have, the more money you make.

About $500 a match, double if you win

Paul Abel, Rhynes's coach and the owner of Wulfrun MMA in Charlottetown, says local fighters can make about $500 a match, plus another $500 if they win. They also get travelling expenses, and a percentage of any tickets they sell.

Selling tickets can also be difficult, however, if the matches aren't on P.E.I., though Abel said a few hundred fans travelled from P.E.I. for a recent match in Moncton.

Jordon Hollingsworth, Shelby Deluney/Creative Lifestyles Studio

"We can hear our fans in the audience but it's different than say somebody who's fighting from New Brunswick who builds a local fan base. And this is a negative for our fighters, for sure."

According to Canada's Criminal Code, prize fighting is illegal unless it is sanctioned by an athletic commission set up under the authority of the province's legislature.

No commission on P.E.I.

John Morrison, director of sport, recreation and physical activity with P.E.I.'s Department of Health and Wellness, said there have been discussions over the years about setting up such a commission on the Island, "but up to this point in time there really hasn't been a decision to move forward in that direction."

As it stands, even amateur fights are not allowed in province's without a sanctioning body — unless it is an Olympic sport such as boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling. Professional wrestling matches are allowed because they are considered entertainment, Morrison said.

I could be having the worst day ever and then I could go to the gym and it all goes away. — Morgan Rhynes

Abel said judging from the fans willing to travel off-Island, he believes MMA matches would be well-attended on P.E.I. — and draw fans from other provinces.

"I think done properly and marketed properly and everything, I do think that it would be well-received," he said. "I'm amazed how many people cross that bridge to follow this sport and to follow their local fighters. It really is quite impressive."

Jordon Hollingsworth, Shelby Deluney/Creative Lifestyles Studio

Rhynes, 29, said like most MMA fighters, his goal is to reach "the pinnacle," the Ultimate Fighting Championship, like P.E.I.'s Jason Saggo did from 2014-17.

Rhynes considers MMA his career, not just fighting for money, but training others and running his gym in Mount Stewart. He said MMA helps him stay in shape, eat healthy and be "a better person."

"It wasn't until I found mixed martial arts that I really found my way," he said. "I could be having the worst day ever and then I could go to the gym and it all goes away."

Waiting for opportunity

Rhynes has had eight professional fights so far, and is eager for more.

"I'm just going to continue to train and really just wait for the next opportunity," he said. "That's really all I can do as a fighter from P.E.I. — just wait for the next opportunity, stay in shape, and just be ready for when the call comes."

He hopes someday, that call will come for a hometown fight.

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