Mixed martial arts fans in Ontario will be counting down on Dec. 31 for more than one reason, after the province announced it would start accepting applications to hold MMA bouts in the New Year.

The Ontario government said on Monday it would start accepting applications from MMA promoters on Jan. 1, 2011.

The announcement comes four months after the government announced the previously banned form of prize fighting would finally be allowed inside the province.

Premier Dalton McGuinty had been dragging his feet about the announcement, saying that lifting the ban wasn't a priority.

"We have heard from fans across the province and it's clear that MMA is a popular sport Ontarians are following," John Gerretsen, Ontario's minister of consumer services, said in a release. "Now we have the tools in place to help keep competitors safe, while providing an economic boost to communities that want to host professional MMA events."

According to provincial estimates, a major MMA event could attract up to 30,000 fans and generate up to $6 million in economic stimulus for everything from hotels and restaurants to retail stores.

The government estimates 10 to 15 matches will be held in the province every year, including one so-called mega-match.

Six other Canadian jurisdictions and 46 U.S. states already host the popular fighting events. MMA was previously banned in Ontario over concerns that it was too violent.

In mid-August, Ontario said MMA bouts could be held in the province under the same rules and guidelines widely used in most other jurisdictions.

The Ontario Athletics Commissioner will be asked to verify competitors have proper licences and meet mandatory health and safety standards before every fight.

In October, CTV News reported that the province would collect five per cent of the revenues from a MMA fight. Boxing promoters currently have to pay two per cent.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport's marquee organization, had long been lobbying for the government to allow fights in Ontario.

Fight fans in Ontario have also been clamouring to see the sport legalized in Ontario. Forty-two per cent of online sales to a sold-out UFC fight in Montreal two years ago were purchased by residents of Ontario.