Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Amateur MMA: When will we come out from the dark ages?

Last June I commented on the tragic death of South Dakota amateur MMA fighter Dustin Jenson.  In that commentary I ask if we, the MMA community will learn from this tragedy. If we, as a community will look at amateur MMA with a critical eye for the safety of our young athletes. If we will acknowledge our need for regulation, education and oversight.

Sadly, less than three months since Jenson's premature death, another tragedy has struck. This time in South Carolina; the second such death in South Carolina since MMA was legalized. Thirty year old father of five Tyrone Mims died of apparent heart failure subsequent to his MMA debut. At this time the cause of death has not been established by the coroner. Exam results are still many weeks away.

Unlike South Dakota where MMA is not regulated by an athletic commission, South Carolina does have a state commission that regulates the amateur version of our sport. And, unlike South Dakota, the South Carolina commission lived up to the standards set by state law; that Mims obtain an annual physical and eye exam as well as HIV, Hepatitis B & C blood tests. Mims was also examined pre and post fight by the ringside physician.

As in all contact sports, there is always going to be risk. Death is actually very rare in MMA. Mims is the fourth known domestic MMA related death since 1993. While we do not yet know the cause of Mims' heart failure (which no amount of pre-fight exam may have prevented), the question still needs to be asked: Are we doing enough for our amateurs? Professional regulation has been standardized, overseen, examined, and continually tightened in the twenty years since MMA was born. Amateurs? We are still in the dark ages; with some athletic commissions barely even acknowledging that it exists.

Here is what Dana White had to say about amateur MMA in a 2009 interview:

But, when it comes to amateur MMA, there are other concerns. Take for example this April 20th commission sanctioned amateur bout in Massachusets:

Originally reported by Steven Marrocco of MMA Junkie, the bout shows a clear mis-judgement on the part of all parties involved. Most concerning are the ringside doctor and referee who allowed the bout to continue; the people upon whom we coaches and fighters depend upon to monitor our safety if we can't do it ourselves. There is a subsequent investigation pending with regard to this bout; justifiably so. However, we must again ask ourselves: Are we doing enough to protect our amateurs?

The problems with amateur MMA constitute a laundry list of concerns*. This editorial only scratches the surface. I am publicly asking the Association of Boxing Commissions to take a long hard look at amateur MMA. We need a national standard that looks after our young athletes.

Stephen Koepfer
Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY

*To learn more about this topic, please check Episode 12 of the HIYAA Martial Arts Podcast where I sit in and discuss the current state of MMA

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