Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Battle of the Hockey Gladiators Cancelled

Promoters of the Battle of the Hockey Gladiators, the controversial hockey-style fighting tournament that features current/former hockey enforcers for a $100,000 prize, have cancelled the tournament due to legalities. The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but a fallout of arena negotiations led to the battle moving to Winnipeg. Now the promoters are looking to move it to a US city at a later date, after Winnipeg police threatened criminal investigation. Says Darryl Wolski, Hockey Gladiators president:
"It's a big nail in the coffin, but the coffin...isn't shut forever."
The legal trouble comes from the Winnipeg Criminal Code, which prohibits bare-knuckled fighting events, unless they are sanctioned by athletic boards or commissions. Wolski explains the decision to postpone the Battle of the Hockey Gladiators:
"Rather than put our participants at risk of a charge, we're going to postpone Hockey Gladiators until we can secure a new location."

The Gladiators tournament amounted to prize-fighting under the Winnipeg Criminal Code, which defines it as "an encounter with fists or hands between two people who specifically meet to fight and who are not sanctioned by a boxing association." Gladiators officials beg to differ, arguing that the event is "wrestling on ice, a TV production staged with some of hockey's most colourful characters." They add that there is technically no prize for the winner, just that "talent fees" paid to the 32 participants increase after each round of fighting they survive. That sounds like prizes to me... My Views

In introducing the idea of the Battle of the Hockey Gladiators, I came down hard on the tournament. I saw the event as another black eye to hockey, partly because the pay-per-view tournament uses the premise of hockey fights as its draw. If it simply was the WWF on ice, I would have no problem with it, but its obvious marketing connection to hockey bothers me. The 32 participants wear full hockey gear, fighting at center ice for up to 90 seconds. The fighters are all current/former semi-pro, college, or NHL players.

The Gladiators tournament cheapens the emotion of true hockey brawls. By staging a hockey fight, they are giving the wrong impression about what dropping the gloves really means in the context of a intense hockey game. To me, it's all about context. From the sheer passion of a real hockey brawl, this tournament dilutes it into a circus sideshow act, with two grown men beating each other to a bloody pulp for no tangible reason. And this is what will be reported on CNN as a hockey fight, perpetuating the misunderstandings of violence in hockey.

With hockey already with a handful of bad press (Mike Danton, Todd Bertuzzi, Andy Van Hellemond, Alexander Perezhogin, Dany Heatley, and a looming lockout), why fuel the fire any more? While I am pessimistic about the mainstream media ever treating hockey with respect and reporting fairly about our game, I don't think it helps to give them the bat to beat hockey with. Scandals or not, hockey is a fourth-tier sport in America (behind baseball, basketball, football), but these recent events aren't promoting hockey to Americana.

Other than bad press, I am bothered by the prize fighting Hockey Gladiators promotes. The 32 goon participants are hockey players who never made much money in their semi-pro statuses. Therefore, it is exploiting their hunger for some extra cash by having them fight. Sure it's not like bum fights or anything, but these guys aren't exactly millionaires. And rather than being paid a flat sum for participating, the idea of these guys shedding more blood for more money is pretty gross. A lot of high profile enforcers, such as Tie Domi and Enrico Ciccone, have turned down offers to participate, so the tournament ends up as a showcase of second-tier fighters.


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