MFL competition returns Aug. 8 after 28-week hiatus

MMA is returning to Montreal, QC nearly five months after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Montreal Fight League will host its next event, MFL 17, on Aug. 8.

As of July 16, MFL 17 will hold 24 fights, including five title bouts. The event’s venue, time and streaming link are TBD, and will be announced on the promotion’s Facebook page.

Zachary Baldwin
Zachary Baldwin after winning the MFL flyweight title at MFL 14. (Photo by Sebastian Furtado/MFL)

“We are working on producing a good link and (viewing) platform as we speak,” MFL president Maz Mas said in an interview with MMA Empire.

“As soon as that’s ready, we’ll announce it on the (Facebook) page as soon as possible.”

MFL 17 was originally set for March 14, but Mas had to postpone the event on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very heartbreaking,” Mas said.

“It was right before weigh-ins. We had to restart the whole card and match-making. We started from scratch.”

The new fight card for Aug. 8 will be the league’s first pay-per-view event since January 25—exactly 28 weeks prior.

Training in a global pandemic

For fighters, MFL 17 is a much-anticipated opportunity to get back into the cage and continue their amateur careers. Athletes have been forced to adapt to the Canadian government’s social distancing guidelines, making training more difficult.

“I went from having a fairly broad group of (trainers) to only a couple guys to train with,” said Gordon Cunningham in an interview with MMA Empire.

“(This situation is) unfortunate because this is arguably the biggest fight of my career thus far. But that’s part of the game. You got to roll with the punches.”

Related: Gordon Cunningham’s drive to succeed is more than just winning

Cunningham will challenge Louis-Philippe Caron for the MFL light heavyweight title at MFL 17.

Fortunately for Cunningham, his brother is a personal trainer, so he has been able to condition and prepare for MFL 17 at his home. However, his home gym, Adrenaline Training Center, was temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

Cunningham had to privately spar with a few of his fellow trainers in order to stay in shape for his upcoming fight.

Gordon Cunningham
Gordon Cunningham lands a knee on Trey Senior in their bout at MFL 16. (Photo courtesy of Montreal Fight League)

“I don’t get to train with them all the time, but when I do, I don’t take it for granted and I work my ass off as much as I can,” Cunningham said.

Sparring is especially challenging during the ongoing outbreak. Fighters have to be aware of who they are practicing with, and can’t train with too many people, per Canada’s limitations on social gatherings.

“You have to be careful with who you’re training with. You can’t mix up the training too much, so that’s been a huge variable,” MFL flyweight champion Zachary Baldwin said in an interview with MMA Empire.

Baldwin co-owns Infinite Martial Arts & Fitness and he noted the difficulties of operating a gym during the pandemic, stating that Infinite lost 70 per cent of its membership.

“It’s been challenging because we’ve been so active and we were on a pretty good run for a while, and then everything was kind of cut short,” Baldwin said.

“It was a pretty stressful time.”

Since Baldwin co-owns Infinite, he has been able to condition and train for his upcoming fight at the facility.

“You feel kind of guilty because no one else is supposed to go in (the gym),” Baldwin said.

“I was still going hard this entire time, just getting a lot of work in by myself.”

While Baldwin considers himself fortunate to have gym access, he doesn’t necessarily see it as an advantage over his opponent for his title defence, Tommy Morrisson.

Even with gyms closed, he anticipates other fighters sparring and training together privately.

Zachary Baldwin
Zachary Baldwin in action against Alexandre Noiseux at MFL 14. (Photo by Sebastian Furtado/MFL)

“Tommy’s a good competitor,” Baldwin said.

“I know those guys find a way to train. I know they’re in someone’s basement doing something. I’m not going to count anybody out.”

Organizing and operating MFL 17

After the original MFL 17 was postponed, the league had to work on a new fight card during the quarantine.

While operations were discontinued, Mas and his team focused on promotions and getting big-name fighters for the event.

“During the pandemic, we (worked) on improving the show from behind the scenes,” Mas said.

“I didn’t take a vacation. I was still working on (MFL 17).”

Mas said social distancing guidelines will be in effect for the event. All participating fighters must hand-deliver negative COVID-19 test results the day of the event in order to compete. Their COVID-19 tests must take place within one week of the fight, and all personnel, other than the two fighters in the cage, are required to wear masks.

The venue will also have a maximum occupancy of approximately 40 people. There will be no spectators or ticket sales for MFL 17.

“We’ll see how things play out with the new rules,” Baldwin said.

“There’s going to be a lot of new things, but I think that’s what fighters are kind of made for. Maz is taking care of things pretty well.”

While securing a venue, promotional materials and a viewing link has been challenging for Mas, getting fighters was relatively smooth. He said he has a waiting list of alternative fighters in case cancellations happen.

“That shows you the demand (for this event) and how hungry the guys are to get back in,” Mas said.

“Everybody is eager to get back into the cage. Everybody wants to fight.”