Recently, aware of my interest in MMA history, Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) forwarded me this piece (written for another purpose). It recounts the NJSACB's initial participation in the MMA community, through to the development of the NJSACB MMA rules, which later became the unified rules of mixed martial arts used in North America today.
Ironically, the story begins only months after New York chose to ban the sport in 1997. I post it here for our readers with Nick's blessing. Enjoy!
This agency first began to observe this new sport at a BAMA Fight Night event in Elizabeth in April 1997. The agency was observing and evaluating with the intent of possibly developing rules for the sport. This card featured future UFC lightweight champion Matt Serra, and Dan Miragliotta was the promoter. The quiet observation of the BAMA events was done with the intent was to allow the agency to observe actual events and gather information needed to determine what would be necessary to establish a comprehensive set of rules to effectively regulate the sport.At the same time, the NJSACB had been in close contact with the California State Athletic Commission, who had been working closely with Jeff Blatnick, Nelson Hamilton and Paul Smith in establishing rules for the UFC. While the California commission approved the sport through a rule set principally authored by Blatnick, the sport did not gain the needed legislative approvals and funding to become legal in the state.As of 2000, the NJSACB began to formally oversee and approve mixed martial arts promotions upon submission and review of their established rules and regulations. These regulations included pre-fight medical testing, medical insurance and ringside physician requirements, among other things. This led to the end of BAMA, due to the new costs and requirements, and Dan came on board as a referee.With specific regard to Atlantic City, promoters Louis Neglia and Ray Longo held Thunder at the Tropicana 5 championship kick boxing card on Saturday, February 26, 2000. On this card, the NJSACB approved Steve Anshelewitz vs. Mark Shopp in a freestyle grappling exhibition. This match consisted of one 10 minute round. The weight class was 181 to 189 pounds. This contest allowed for open hand strikes and grappling. This contest was the first NJSACB sanctioned professional "MMA style" match held in New Jersey.The IFC (the International Fighting Championships), held the first sanctioned and regulated full event, under the draft unified rules, in Atlantic City at the Tropicana, on September 30, 2000. Vernon White and Gan McGee were featured fighters on that card.The previous owners of the UFC, held UFC 28 in Atlantic City, NJ on November 17, 2000 at the Taj Mahal. This event was fully regulated and sanctioned by New Jersey, under the draft unified rules, while the UFC was an entity and a name owned by SEG. Randy Couture became the UFC's first heavyweight champion on this card which also featured future stars such as Jens Pulver, Josh Barnett and Andrei Arlovski.UFC 30 was held at the Taj Mahal on February 23, 2001. This event featured Tito Ortiz in a middleweight championship and Jens Pulver in a then bantamweight championship. This card was run by Zuffa, the current UFC owners.With regard to scoring criteria, damage was included in the draft unified rules principally authored by Jeff Blatnick, but was taken out because of concerns with the precocious sports detractors. The concern was that they could make it a negative factor that damage was actually the intended way to win a fight (we know it is, but damage isn't a key scoring criteria in any other North American sport.) Thus, I tried a draft rule set which softened things by not using the word damage. My draft definition of damage in 2000 principally mirrored muay Thai scoring. It read, techniques should be strong and delivered with power to score. Judges should not only make an assessment of the actions of the contestant delivering the blow. They must also assess the effect of the technique on the opponent. The technique should have a visible impact on the opponent These assessments include stopping an opponent's advance, unbalancing the opponent, slowing the opponent's offense, and causing the opponent to show pain. This language was also taken out of the draft unified rules, as was damage, in order to help ease the passage of the sport. (Ironically, this language and the issue of damage as a scoring component is now being considered in 2012 by the Association of Boxing Commission's MMA Scoring Review Committee)On April 3, 2001, the NJSACB held a meeting in Trenton to discuss the regulation of mixed martial arts events. The purpose of the meeting was an attempt to unify the myriad of rules and regulations, which had been used the past by different mixed martial arts organizations in various jurisdictions. The goal was to foster the growth of the sport. At this meeting, the rules used in New Jersey since September 2000 were discussed, modified and then agreed upon by several other regulatory bodies, numerous promoters of mixed martial arts events and other interested parties in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting, all parties in attendance were able to agree upon a uniform set of rules to govern the sport of mixed martial arts.Those at this meeting wereNick Lembo, NJSACB
Larry Hazzard, NJSACB
Marc Ratner, NAC-via telephone conference
Jerry Boyle, Jimmy Fox, Mike Mazzulli-Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods
John Mc Carthy-UFC
D. Benjamin Brown-IFC
Milt Chawsky, Esq.
Dr. Edward Andujar-Vineland, NJ
Dave Sirota-Tropicana Atlantic CityUFC 31 was then held at the Taj Mahal on May 4, 2001. This was the first event under the agreed upon unified rules. This card was seen live on pay per view and was stacked from top to bottom. It featured BJ Penn's debut, New Jersey's Ricardo Almeida (now a NJSACB pro MMA Judge), Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Pat Miletich, Shonie Carter and Matt Serra.While the NJSACB should be credited with sanctioning the sport, Donald Trump (Taj Mahal), Dennis Gomes (Tropicana), Dave Sirota (Tropicana) and D. Benjamin Brown (local promoter) must be credited for bringing these events to, and promoting these events, in Atlantic City casino venues, thereby giving the sport legitimacy through its venue site.