Time to knuckle up

It's almost time for the much-awaited return of MMA to Vernon.

On Aug. 24 mixed martial arts will return to the North Okanagan after a five-year absence.

Unbanned will feature numerous local fighters including headliner Kenny Pope who will be fighting for the 170-pound title.

“I started training right out of high school. I am 10 fights into it now so my confidence in definitely up there,” said Pope while training at Unity Mixed Martial Arts and Kickboxing in Vernon.

“I can't wait. I get to do this in front of my friends and family. Every fight I've had, I've had to go out of town. It feels really great.”

Pope said it is about time MMA returned to Vernon.

“It's just like an art form, so why not?” he said. “It's all about the art for me.”
Co-organizer and Unity owner and head coach Raja Kler said the card will feature seven local fighters and promises to be an exciting return of MMA to Vernon.

The city council of the day banned MMA in 2014, citing ties to organized crime, but the current council saw the folly in that decision and lifted the ban.

“We are going to see the best local talent and some of the best competitors in not just Vernon, but all of BC,” said Kler. “There is no better way to watch MMA than to actually watch it live.”

Pope, with a record of 5-5-0, will take on Dylan Schellenberg who has a 3-5-0 record.

“He (Pope) just beat the No. 2 guy at the time in Canada, choked him out in the first round, but he has a very tough fight ahead of him,” said Kler.

When asked if the organizers of Unbanned are connected to organized crime, they couldn't help but chuckle.

“Absolutely not,” said Saverio Loria of Loria Group Entertainment, adding all gang colours will be banned from the event and security is in place from the moment people walk through the front door.

Kler said the banning of MMA in Vernon likely had more to do with politics than crime concerns.

“It is probably the most sanctioned sport on BC when it comes to amateur sports and professionals,” said Kler. “If the province was willing to sanction it, I think people maybe saw it was little bit of politics.”

Kler said sports in general are good for youths, adults and the community and events like Unbanned will bring people together.

There will be seven fighters from Vernon, as well as two from Kelowna and two from Penticton. Other fighters will be coming from other parts of BC and Alberta.

Loria said the fights will be a family event.

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