The Tsuut’ina Nation just west of Calgary is at the center of a major sports story involving a YouTube star, boxer Jake Paul, and former UFC legend Michael Bisping.
The First Nation made headlines in the sports pages of UK tabloids and around the world this week as Paul and Bisping escalated a long-running war of words on social media, teasing a possible fight between the pair that could happen in Alberta.
Bisping, 43, is one of the latest retired MMA stars on 25-year-old Paul’s hit list, which started with fellow YouTubers and NBA players.
Paul has now gone pro, fighting and calling out UFC stars and long-retired boxing legends. Last year, he fought against four-weight world champion Floyd Mayweather.
Paul’s pay-per-view fights are a spectacle, drawing millions of viewers around the world and millions of dollars. They have fight fans divided, some refusing to recognize Paul’s credentials as a pro boxer given the short amount time he has spent in the sport.
“If you can get licensed, I would love to fight you,” said Paul, calling out Bisping in a recent YouTube video. That fight could earn Bisping $1M plus an additional PPV bonus.
The problem is Bisping is blind in one eye, something he managed to hide from officials at the back end of his UFC career. He also has serious knee issues. Those problems make getting cleared to fight by any American athletic commission near impossible.
That’s where the Tsuut’ina Nation comes in.
The Tsuut’ina Combative Commission is the first athletic licensing commission in Canada run by a First Nation. That makes it one of a few places in the world able to grant Bisping the permit he needs to make the fight happen.
The Tsuut’ina Nation also has a venue, the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex & Jim Starlight Centre, which has previously held fight events, albeit on a much smaller scale.
“We are Dene people and Dene people are warriors,” said Zachary Manywounds, who is with the commission. “We don’t want to limit athletes.”
Manywounds says they licensed a Muay Thai fighter to compete with one arm at a previous World Cup event and can license Bisping to fight Paul on the reserve.
“The Seven Chiefs field house can seat 10,000 people. It’s a massive field house and top tier inside,” said Manywounds.
“Our name being put on the global stage is beautiful to me. It will impact our nation for a long time. And if this event was to come to Tsuut’ina, it would be amazing, phenomenal, and it would create a lot of pride,” Manywounds said. “It blew me away seeing us on Twitter and Instagram. It’s glorious.”
Manywounds says a big PPV fight would further bridge his community with the neighboring city. He says if it materializes, it would be a catalyst to something much bigger.
So with the licensing issue cleared up, will the fight actually happen?
There’s only a slim chance, says the man who helped connect Bisping with the Tsuut’ina.
“They (the Tsuut’ina) put together a video and spoke to their lawyers, and I sent it to Bisping, and he put it out on his Twitter. Jake Paul then responded,” said Kieran Keddle, a Muay Thai coach, manager and fight promoter in Calgary.
“The exposure since has been unbelievable,” Keddle said.
“Paul said, ‘you just proved you’re not with the UFC anymore,’ and Bisping said, ‘I’m free to fight you,'” Keddle said.
“Now it’s down to Jake Paul and his team,” said Keddle, who estimates that, realistically, there’s only a 20 per cent chance of the fight coming to fruition.
He says that even if the hype and social media war of words between the pair fizzles out, it shows what’s possible on the Tsuut’ina Nation. He says it also highlights that the Calgary area has an arena that can hold a large event with some unique licensing options for fighters.
Paul’s sixth professional fight—once the question of an opponent is settled—is due to take place in August.