As Canadians, we often think that the most prevalent sports in our communities are of course hockey and soccer. When Canadians, and by extension, citizens of Lethbridge, think of the term sport, the images of striking a puck on the frozen floor and kicking a soccer ball across a grassy field come to mind. However, although they might not be the first things to come to mind, combat sports, like judo, boxing, and mixed martial arts are really at the heart of Lethbridge’s rich athletic history. My goal in this blog is to highlight the significance that Lethbridge has had in the world of combat sports and to perhaps widen your perspective about our wonderful city.
A good place to start would be to look at one of the first modern combat sports gyms established in the city. Since its founding in 1937, the Lethbridge Boxing Club has seen the growth of multiple athletes and coaches that have cemented Lethbridge’s importance in combat sports. Among the many figures who have been in the gym, Rick Duff currently serves as the club’s head coach. With a long competitive career that witnessed multiple wins to be the Canadian champion and an Olympic run in 1984, Duff continues to support the team, having under his wing multiple athletes that went on to claim the Canadian championship title. Inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, Duff and the Lethbridge Boxing Club are truly at the heart of our community’s history.
Another gem of the city’s sports history lies with Lethbridge’s Kyodokan judo club, which was established in 1952. Yoshio Senda, the club’s founder, has an incredibly important place in Lethbridge’s athletic heritage. Senda himself was a representative of Canada on the world stage, being an Olympic coach from 1980 to 1988 and also earning the title of Canadian junior champion in 1937. Although he has since passed away, he is most notable for being one of the highest-ranking Canadians in judo, having received the very first kudan (9th degree black belt) by Judo Canada’s grading committee. To this day, the Lethbridge Judo Club has a strong presence in competitive judo, being a consistent force at the national and international levels.
From the early 90s onwards, the combat sports world has seen a drastic shift. In modern times, the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts have seen the combination of different fighting styles. However, Lethbridge has been at the forefront of the growth of MMA, with multiple local athletes competing since the sport’s inception. Lee and Jordan Mein, a family duo from Lethbridge’s Canadian Martial Arts Center, have competed at the highest level from the very beginning. Lee Mein, in particular, fought some of the sport’s most famous pioneers, including Jeff Monson and Dan Severn in the early days of MMA. Following in his footsteps, Jordan Mein went on to fight in high-level organizations such as Strikeforce, the UFC and Bellator, proving that a small city like Lethbridge can hold a strong place in modern sports history.
Hopefully, this little look into Lethbridge’s strange relationship with combat sports has opened your perspective on what other sports hold an important place in our little Canadian community. Although hockey and soccer are the most popular sports in the city, the next time you hear about any of these combat sports, perhaps you’ll think about them in the context of Lethbridge’s athletic history.
Andres Salazar, YQL Awarded Volunteer