EDMONTON—The world of combat sports is fueled in no small part by trash talk.

And, amid online jockeying between a YouTube sensation and a former UFC superstar, a First Nation near Calgary has managed to elbow its way into the conversation.

The Tsuut’ina Nation has said it is ready and willing to host a potential boxing match between Jake Paul and former UFC superstar Michael Bisping in a spectacle that could bring in millions of pay-per-view dollars and attention from around the world.

It’s a chance for the Tsuut’ina Nation Combative Commission — the only athletic commission in Canada established on a First Nation — to showcase itself, says Zachary Manywounds, one of the commissioners.

“We’re Dene people in Tsuut’ina, and Dene people are warriors,” he told the Star.

The potential fight comes with a ton of controversy.

Paul, 25, is known for insulting those he wishes to fight and for having cleaved boxing fans over whether he’s a true fighter after first making his name as a hugely popular YouTube entertainer.

In a recent social-media call-out video, Paul said he wanted to box Bisping, a former UFC champion.

“I would love to fight you,” Paul said in the video.

The 43-year-old Bisping, meanwhile, is blind in one eye and suffers from serious knee issues. He fought for years while clinically blind in his eye from him, barely passing medical exams, before he retired in 2018. He became the UFC middleweight champion in 2016.

There are few places in the world that would be likely to license Bisping for a fight given his vision, but that’s something the Tsuut’ina Nation Combative Commission says wouldn’t be a problem on its turf.

That’s caught Bisping’s attention.

As Bisping had been publicly toying with the idea through tweets and retweets of fighting Paul, the First Nation just west of Calgary made it clear in a video pitch sent to Bisping that it has implemented its own regulations around fights and could give him a permit.

Bisping tweeted out the video out last week and told Paul, “Your move.”

That set off the speculation in the professional fighting world.

“When a fight event does come here, you know, we don’t want to limit athletes,” said Manywounds, adding that a one-armed Muay Thai fighter competed there recently.

“If the athlete really wants to do it, why shouldn’t we let him?”

Erik Magraken, a lawyer with the MacIsaac Group of Law Firms who specializes in combat sports, called Alberta “the most unique jurisdiction” in North America when it comes to professional fighting.

Canadian provinces usually have a commission that oversees combat sports, but Alberta has it broken down to the municipal level, so that cities such as Calgary and Edmonton have their own commissions.

This makes “an already scattered regulatory picture even more scattered,” Magraken said in an email to the Star, adding that “regulators should always remember their job is to put safety before profit.”

“There are legitimate health and safety issues in approving a bout for a one-eyed fighter,” Magraken said.

Were the fight to actually take place — something that is far from a certainty at this point — it would likely happen at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex & Jim Starlight Center, which can hold about 10,000 spectators.

Since the pandemic started, the First Nation has already sanctioned several fighting events, said Manywounds.

He said he sees the Paul-versus-Bisping fight as a way to help “bridge the gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

“The potential is limitless for what it can do,” he said. “As most people know, there is indifference and lack of understanding from both parties, First Nations and people outside of First Nations, of how both worlds work.”

Kieran Keddle, a Calgary-based promoter, was the middleman in getting the Tsuut’ina Nation on Bisping’s radar when he sent him the video of Manywounds pitching the location.

“Just because he has one eye doesn’t mean he can’t compete,” Keddle told the Star.

The fight could rake in tens of millions of dollars in pay per views, based on what Paul and Bisping have managed to pull in for audiences in past fights, Keddle said.

As it stands, it’s mostly just social media talk. But if all the right papers were signed and the necessary people brought on board, Keddle said, a reasonable timeline could be imagined to allow for a summer clash between the two.

“Truthfully, it’s about 25 per cent chance of it happening.”


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