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Does Government Have a Role in Regulating Utah Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Utah, is a part of Utah culture. Fight Clubs had their origin in Utah. BYU students in Provo used to get together in basements and in desolate areas to slug each other in the face. The bouts were very disorganized in many ways, but the means by which they were put on, was very sophisticated. These events pre-dated Facebook, so organizers of Fight Clubs had to be very creative in how they solicited fighters, and how they let spectators know when and where they could find the unsanctioned bouts.

As a result of the Federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, the state of Utah deemed all unarmed combat sports that were not sanctioned by the Utah Athletic Commission or USA Boxing illegal. It was a Class B Misdemeanor to be a spectator at such an event, let alone promote or participate in one.

The obvious question here is…..Why? Why is it illegal to punch a friend in the face, when it is perfectly legal to run at him as fast as you can, and slam him into the ground if he is carrying a ball? Sandlot football games can be found on any given Sunday on just about every high school football field. Some games are ‘touch’ football, where no tackling is allowed. These games typically see blocking that is on vicious blow after the next in effort to create a hole for your running back to run through. Others, it’s anything goes. Seeing participants being carried to the parking lot for a visit to the emergency room, is not an uncommon occurrence.

A simple physics lesson reveals the danger of organized football to far exceed that of MMA. The velocity football players are making contact with one another, eclipses that of a punch. Those helmets do nothing more than protect the shell of a person. The impact on the brain is not diminished as it violently slams against a person’s skull upon impact. Similarly, soccer players that ‘Head’ the ball at 40 miles per hour, do far more damage than a punch could inflict upon someone.

There are many brands of football, and they all eclipse MMA in terms of violent collisions. Rugby, Australian Rules Football, and even soccer often see violent collisions with very little padding.

What about Hockey? Go to nearly any Ice Rink in town, and you will find cute little girls spinning around in hopes they can become the next Nancy Kerrigan. That is, until the afternoon hockey leagues kick into high gear. Toothless combatants battle for possession of a puck, and aim to put it into the net-while flattening anyone who dare stand in their way.

Lacrosse and Water Polo are two fine examples of sports that seem to be able to regulate themselves with no government oversight, that have a great deal of contact, and are not mainstream. Downhill Skiing, Auto Racing, Motocross, Skydiving, Repelling, Mountain Climbing, Spelunking, Rodeo, etc., etc., etc., ALL seem to be able to regulate themselves, with NO government interference, despite being FAR more dangerous.

Utah prides itself on having the greatest snow on earth, and a great deal of taxpayer money goes toward marketing our great ski industry. Not a day on the slopes goes by that ski patrol doesn't have to strap a person to a sled, and transport them off the side of the mountain. It is a very dangerous sport. The Ski resorts recognize that the safety of their patrons is paramount, so they institute rules and regulations that are strictly enforced in order to protect their own interests.

Why is it that Boxing, Kickboxing, and Mixed Martial Arts needs ‘Big Brother’ to look over them. We will discuss Boxing in a moment. Let’s take a look at what Mixed Martial Arts is. MMA is a combination of Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, among a litany of other ‘traditional’ martial arts.

Boxing and Kickboxing are regulated by the athletic commission. None of the rest are. Wrestling tournaments, Jiu Jitsu Tournaments, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu tournaments are held on any given weekend of the year in a gymnasium near you.
Wrestling pits two contestants against one another in a competition to pin the other’s shoulders to the mat. Jiu Jitsu tournaments are won by getting your opponent to ‘submit’, or give up by twisting their arm in a direction it was not meant to go, or by choking them until the can no longer breathe without ‘tapping out’. Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung Fu tournament rules vary by promotion or organization, but typically points are scored by, striking your opponent before they can strike you. Usually strikes to the body are unregulated in terms of how hard you can hit, but strikes to the head are limited to avoid knocking your opponent out.

Injuries occur all the time in these competitions. The participants understand the risk, and know they are responsible for their own injuries. These are contact sports, and most people are able to deduce the fact that there is an inherent possibility of injury by participating in them.

If a person falls while downhill skiing, they do not turn to the state of Utah, and ask them to help them pay their medical bills. Most people understand it is the risk they take when participating in dangerous sports.

Eskrima, Arnis and Kali all refer to the same family of Filipino weapon-based martial arts and fighting systems. Kendo is a Japanese version of stick fighting, which incorporates weapons made of bamboo. Fencing is a well-known form of armed combat that is in the Olympics. All of these activities are one-on-one competitions that include striking, but actually include a weapon. Strangely, these sports are not regulated, because they are not ‘unarmed combat’. Yet, somehow, they are able to regulate themselves, with no governmental interference, and have no recent deaths reported.

Those who regulate unarmed combat claim they are needed to:

1. Protect the public from unscrupulous promoters

2. Protect the safety of the fighters.

The reality of it is, this is a means to collect fees from the participants in these sports because they are not organized enough to prevent it, and these commissions offer little in exchange for these fees.

Any guess what the requirements for being a corner man in any of these sports are? Paying your fee. What about a participant? Surely there must be proficiency requirements for fighters? Nope. Not a single one. Even judges and referees are not required to have any training under most commissions. Those that do require it, have no standardization, and offer little, to no, training.

Even if they were to offer that training…..who would give it? Most members of commissions across the country were given that position as a favor from a political ally, offering no experience or knowledge, as they embark upon regulating a sport they know nothing about.

Utah Mixed Martial Arts, in particular, has a commission comprised of not one single person who has any remote familiarity with the sports of MMA or Boxing. None of them had participated in the sport, in any fashion, prior to their appointment. Let us examine how the commission protects the safety of fighters. In 2007, Eddie ‘Flash’ Newman had his promoter’s license stripped from him for falsifying HIV test documents. When a friend of his couldn't coax the commission to reinstate Newman’s license, he went to the legislator and had the entire commission fired, and replaced with all of his friends. His newly appointed commission reinstated Newman’s license in short order.

Let us now examine how the Utah Athletic Commission ‘protects the public’ from unscrupulous promoters. In 2007, when the aforementioned legislator placed his friends in charge of the commission, he appointed his neighbor as Director. Never mind that he had never seen a fight in his life, let alone had ANY inclination what rules he would use to govern the sport when he was appointed. It was merely 2 years later that he was allegedly caught stealing money from a local promoter. What did the promoter get for calling him out for stealing? He lost his license and was sent into exile, while the commission allowed the Director to remain in his position. No investigation. Nothing.

Let us now discuss Boxing. According to Wikipedia, Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which was enacted on January 1, 2000, was to address the following issues:
Congress noted through research that there were a number of problems with the sport of boxing, which needed to be changed to ensure the safety and protection of professional boxers. Listed are a number of discoveries made by Congress:

1. Professional boxing is not governed by any league, association, or any form of an established organization like majority of other professional sports.

2. The state officials are not ensuring the protection of the boxers and are not aware or informed of contracts boxers have agreed to.

3. Promoters are taking advantage of the sport by conducting dishonest business affairs. Promoters are not being punished due to some states being less strict about the legal terms that are stated in contracts.

4. There is no rating system provided to rank professional boxers thus ratings are subjected to manipulation by those in charge.

5. There has been a major interference in the sport by because of open competition by restrictive and anti competitive bodies.

6. There are no restrictions placed on contracts that boxers agree to with promoters and managers. It is necessary to enforce a national contract reform which will guarantee the safety of professional boxers and the public from unlawful contracts and to enhance the integrity of the sport.

Congress wanted the Ali Act to make the following possible:

1. Ensure the safety and promote the welfare of professional boxers by eliminating dishonest transactions.

2. To provide help to State Boxing Commissions in regulating boxing events and boxing ratings.

3. To promote the sport of boxing honestly and mandate organization and business of the sport.

The rational behind the bill is understandable. There are ruthless people who prey on the weak, and take advantage of athletes. There are already safeguards in place to protect them, however. The Department of Commerce ad the Labor Commission already exists to regulate commerce and to guarantee labor standards are met within the state of Utah.

Fraud is aggressively prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office. Why another layer of Government that is unnecessary?

The only logical purpose of any Boxing or Athletic Commission would be to facilitate the final objective of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act-To help promote the sport. The only way that can be achieved would be to appoint those involved in the sport. They would have incentive to succeed, and the means by which to do it.

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About the Author

Mike Stidham, Ultimate Combat
1134 East Draper Parkway
Draper, UT 84020

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