France to recognize MMA as a sport in Jan. 2020

A UFC Paris card might not be too far away.

France made a major step toward the legalization of mixed martial arts Monday. Roxana Maracineanu, the French minister of sports, announced on Twitter the country will take applications from existing sports federations to be the one that organizes MMA in the country. She wrote that on Jan. 1, 2020, MMA will be a recognized sport in France at the professional and amateur level.

MMA was banned in France in 2016; the government said the sport would be legal only once it was taken over by an existing French sports federation.

According to a report in Le Parisien, applications from federations are due in September and a final decision will be made on Dec. 31 to determine which federation will oversee MMA in the country. Among the candidates to regulate MMA are the current federations for muay thai and kickboxing, karate, judo, French boxing and wrestling, according to the newspaper.

"UFC welcomes today's announcement by the Ministry of Sports, which is the first step in officially recognizing MMA and integrating the sport into the French sports ecosystem," UFC senior executive vice president and chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein said in a statement. "We will closely follow the progress of the consultation period and pay particular attention to the respect of the integrity of MMA and preservation of its rules by the host federation. We put our global MMA expertise at the disposal of the authorities to make this process a collective construction."

The chosen federation will have a contract to regulate MMA in France for two years. According to the Le Parisien report, there are an estimated 40,000 MMA practitioners living in France and hundreds of gyms at which the sport is practiced.

France is one of the last major countries without legalized MMA. The UFC has several fighters from France on the roster, including heavyweight star Francis Ngannou, who will fight in the main event of UFC Minneapolis on Saturday, a card that airs on ESPN.

"This is an important moment for MMA players in France and French sports," Maracineanu said, per Le Parisien. "For many years France had been an exception. This reality had to be taken into account in order to better supervise and apprehend it."

Bertrand Amoussou, a former MMA fighter and judoka who is the president of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), told Le Parisien that he expects there to be legal mixed martial arts fights held in France next year.