Saturday, March 30, 2013

UPDATED: Concerns Over Amateur MMA Regulation Going National


Note before reading: For the purposes of this editorial "regulation" shall mean supervision by a state athletic commission. "Sanctioned" shall mean supervision by a third party martial arts organization.

January 2012 saw the publication of this piece on in the about the battle for amateur MMA regulation in Washington. Then, last June I wrote an editorial regarding the tragic death of amateur fighter Dustin Jenson in relation to the dire need we have in the United States for uniform amateur MMA regulation. Jenson died subsequent to an unregulated bout in South Dakota, which had no state athletic commission at the time. Sadly, just months later, the issue of amateur MMA regulation reared its head again after the death of South Carlolina fighter Tyrone Mims. Again, I asked here on this blog "When will amateur MMA come out of the dark ages?"

Just weeks after originally posting this editorial, the sad new has broken that a debut MMA fighter, Felix Elochukwu Nchikwo, has died subsequent to competing in an unregulated amateur MMA bout in Michigan. This marks the third death in amateur MMA in less than a year. According to news reports Nchikwo was not required to undergo pre-fight medical tests before entering the contest, nor was there a cageside doctor or ambulance present. Cause of death is not yet known. Michigan legislators have been in a heated battle regarding the need for regulation of amateur MMA in their state.

In 2013 the issue of amateur MMA regulation has slowly begun to take a national spotlight:
- Last month South Dakota passed legislation that provides for regulation of MMA via the creation of a new state athletic commission (despite spirited debate from the opposition). 
- Maryland's legislature also began hearing testimony regarding amateur MMA regulation, video of which is available here
- This ABC news story highlights the debate going on in Michigan's legislature regarding the need for amateur MMA regulation (this article was published prior to the April 5th death of Pablo Elochukwu).
- Just this week, Pennsylvania's Athletic Commissioner Greg Sirb commented on the national "Mess" that is amateur MMA.
- Even New York Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle has mentioned the need for future legislation pertaining to amateur MMA.
In New York where amateur MMA is legal and unregulated, we are well aware of the dangers posed to fighters who decide to compete under questionable conditions. Here, amateur MMA can range from underground "no holds barred" events to fairly well organized events under any number of third party sanctioning bodies...and everything in between.

In New York, while legal according to state law, amateur MMA events have had a long history of being unlawfully shut down as part of the state crackdown on professional MMA. The effect of this crackdown (which began in the early 2000's) led to the belief that live amateur MMA, like its professional counterpart (banned in 1997), was also banned. Rapid growth of underground fighting events all over the state was the result. 

In January of 2012 this all changed when Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman conceded in court documents that amateur MMA was in fact legal in New York, but unregulated. Any amateur MMA event wanting to operate in New York simply needed to be sanctioned by one of the third party martial arts organizations identified in the state combat sports law (though some organizations such at the USMTA and FILA are not listed and do operate in New York with NYSAC cooperation or consent). 

To get a more detailed history of New York's crackdown on amateur MMA, check out my editorial on Bloody Elbow.

While Schneiderman's admission did give the New York community some of the local live MMA it was yearning for, there are still significant problems with the scenario. The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) recently pointed out some of these concerns in a strongly worded letter to several members of the New York legislature as well as Governor Cuomo. 

There is no consensus among the third party sanctioning bodies operating in New York regarding amateur rules, mandatory equipment, inspection procedures, medical requirements/oversight, required training of officials, matchmaking protocol, reporting of results, event security or pretty much anything else. Most of these sanctioning bodies do not report their results to the ABC fighter database (though some of the promoters do), which is the go to national resource for promoters, coaches and fighters when researching their opponent's record and suspensions. 

Nevertheless, by March of 2012 sanctioned amateur MMA in New York was back on the map. The first sanctioned event in over a decade was TNT Fights in Tonawanda (then sanctioned by the USMTA). Shortly after events began to crop up in Ithica, Rochester, Westchester and most recently New York City. The first sanctioned amateur MMA event in NYC was Aggressive Combat Championships which came to the Bronx last January. The World MMA Expo held a small amateur MMA event last February at the Jacob Javits Center, sanctioned by FILA. Most recently, a new Florida based promotion, Fighter's Source, threw its hat in the ring and held the first full scale sanctioned amateur MMA event in Manhattan since the crackdown began a over a decade ago. Fighter's Source held the Kings of New York event at the Hammerstein Ballroom on March 23rd. The Kings of New York event certainly has potential to grow into a great show. But, there were some regulatory concerns.  

Check out Mark La Monica's take on the event in his story for Newsday

Fighter's Source, which is sanctioned by the USA MMA Ki Federation (an affiliate of the IMMAF and odd evolutionary wing of KICK international, which is listed in the state combat sports law as a third party sanctioning body), did their best to oversee an event that was hastily announced and organized. Despite a very poor turn out at the formal try outs for the event just 3 weeks prior, Fighter's Source managed to put together a card of 10 bouts; some of which were pretty exciting. 

All fighters reportedly had physicals and blood work prior to fighting in the show. There was an ambulance, EMT crew and ringside physician present at the event. Also present were US MMA KI Federation officials including Director of International Development Anthony Medina (and CEO of Fighter's Source), Treasury Director Ted Welch and Executive Director Frank Babcock. All fighters did receive pre & post fight medical screenings with the doctor. For the most part, the two referees were very much on point and at least two of the five judges were ABC certified officials (local judges who trained at our recent ABC Officials' course). The show ran smoothly. To my knowledge no fighter sustained significant injury and the fans (approximately 1,500 in attendance) had an entertaining night of fights.

Check out my interview with Fighter's Source CEO Anthony Medina (Bronx native) who discusses the history and formation of Fighter's Source.

Ronmy Davila (reported 1-1) working an ankle lock on Fabian Llerena (reported 1-1) at the Kings of New York
Abner Hernandez (reported 0-1) soundly defeats Vermon Lodman (reported 2-1) in round 1, only to verbally submit due to exhaustion in round 2 giving Lodman the victory.

Carlos Hernandez (reported 2-0) on his way to a 3rd round rear naked choke victory
over Jefferey Balladares (reported 2-1) at the Kings of New York.

Kimson It (reported 0-0) saved by the bell from Felix Peres' (reported 2-1) triangle choke at the end of round 1.
Perez went on to win via 2nd round TKO.
Simmon Sara (reported 4-0) defeats Matthew Perez (reported 5-4) via 1st round armbar at Kings of New York
Despite an entertaining night of fights and excitement over an MMA event in the heart of Manhattan (myself included), there were still concerns with some regulatory aspects of the event. 

The majority of fighter records identified on the bout list did not correspond to the ABC national database. As of the writing of this post, this Kings of New York event still is not reflected on the database. Some of the records noted by Fighter's Source on the bout list were in excess of the official ABC database and others reported less. On the positive side, none of the fighters on the Kings of New York card were under suspension as listed by the ABC. Though, at least two fighters on the under-card had reportedly fought in another unregulated New York show just a week prior. Angelo Rivera (reported 5-1), who defeated Chris Miller (reported 5-1) via 2nd round TKO in the co-main event, noted in his post fight interview that he had fought on three cards that month alone.

Taking the unverifiable records into account, it is hard to determine what matches would or would not have been approved by the NY State Athletic Commission (or any commission) had one been involved. But, one bout clearly would not  have been permitted; and should not have been allowed by the Fighter's Source matchmaker & US MMA Ki Federation. That bout was Jose Mariscal (8-1) vs Ethan Gomez (0-0). Those of us sitting cage side for the event were already concerned when we saw a nine fight veteran facing a debut fighter. And, as expected, Mariscal defeated Gomez via 1st round referee stoppage after a brutal one sided beating.

Jose Mariscal on route to a 1st round victory over Ethan Gomez
Some of the smaller problems that surfaced during the Kings of New York event were not unfamiliar to any new event. The first two bouts were slightly delayed in that fighters were showing up cage side with gloves that had not been inspected properly in the fighter prep area. That hiccup was clearly fixed by bout three.

Another area of concern was lack of security at cage side. There was very little oversight regarding who was permitted in the cage after a bout's conclusion or during a doctor intervention (of which there was one). At some points it was like Times Square in there, with no event staff in the cage outside of the referee. The cage floor was visibly covered with dirt in several spots. The Hammerstein did have event security, but they were not involved cage side.

From a fan's perspective I would also like to have seen more local gyms represented. This may be a result of the event's short notice or lack of outreach to local coaches by Fighter's Source matchmakers. But, I am sure the place would have sold out had the card been full of locals.

Overall, I think the Kings of New York event has a solid future and I hope to see them back soon with some improvement. By the "wild west" standards of New York amateur MMA, these guys did a fantastic job. Many of my concerns are not unique to Fighter's Source, but ubiquitous in the unregulated world of amateur MMA in general; as seen in the news items listed above. As long as there is no universal standard or oversight of amateur MMA by the ABC, state and tribal commissions, we will continue to have the problem of independent organizations acting without any kind of checks and balances. It is time for the amateurs to be unified and regulated, just as the pros are.

Stephen Koepfer
Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY

Monday, March 18, 2013

World Series of Fighting Steps Up For NY MMA!

Ray Sefo, veteran fighter & President of the World Series of Fighting is up in Albany today lending his support to the battle for regulated professional MMA in NY! the World Series of Fighting is a newly founded professional promotion that has already hosted events in neighboring New Jersey; and recently signed a deal to be aired on NBC Sports Network.

Regarding the lobby effort in Albany, Sefo's presence at the capital is critical as it adds a fresh new voice to a dialogue historically monopolized by Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC).

Read more about Sefo's visit to Albanmy in Ken Lovett's piece for the NY Daily News:
World Series of Fighting Enters Ring to Push for Mixed Martial Arts Legalization in NY

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Interview: Fighter's Source CEO Anthony Medina

On March 23rd a new amateur MMA promoter debuts in New York with the first amateur MMA tournament to be held here. Fighter's Source will hold their debut event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.  This event crept up on us New Yorkers without much warning, so NYMMANOW Blog reached out was able to score this interview with Fighter's Source CEO, Anthony Medina.

NYMMANOW: First off, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for NYMMANOW. To start, as Fighter’s Source is a new entity to most, please give us a brief rundown of the organization’s history and aspirations.

Medina: Fighters Source, LLC is a Florida based company that was started March 2012. There are four owners in our company: Anthony Medina, CEO; Adam Meyers, CFO; Kevin Medina, CDO; and Brandon Medina, COO. We originally started our company to put together a USA amateur team to fight a Swedish team in Boras, Sweden. When the announcement was made in Sweden we were immediately contacted by a promoter from England and Denmark to join the competition. When we invited them to compete, at that point we decided to call the event "Fighters Source World Championships" the first international amateur MMA team event representing four nations.

Fighters Source is dedicated to helping amateur MMA fighters accomplish their dreams of athletic achievement. It promotes amateur MMA as a sport requiring high-level performance in a range of martial arts from striking to kicking to grappling and judo. Fighters Source’s founders know the obstacles young men and women face in trying to establish themselves as fighters. We have created an organization that provides young fighters with the experience, resources, discipline and opportunity to successfully compete against other top international amateur teams.

NYMMANOW: I had an opportunity to train with one of your fighters a few weeks ago that resides in Florida (Yvon Aqenor who has gone on to turn pro). He had nothing but great things to say about being part of Team USA and fighting overseas with you guys. Can you tell us a bit about what Fighter’s Source is trying to build internationally and what organizations you may be working with abroad?

Medina: Fighters Source aspires to be the “Golden Gloves” of MMA. We are able to do this by partnering with the USA MMA KI Federation for our domestic events. And because the USA MMA KI Federation is a member of the International MMA Federation (IMMAF), this will allow us to promote international events.

NYMMANOW: Fighter’s Source uses USA MMA KI Federation as its sanctioning body, which I believe is part of Kick International. Can you explain why you chose to work with Kick as opposed to the myriad of sanctioning bodies out there?

Medina: The USA MMA KI Federation is a part of KICK International We choose them because of the credibility and history of the origination being a 501 (c3) non-for-profit in good standing. The leadership president Frank Babcock and the 42 representatives of states and regions embody the "Who’s Who’s" of MMA industry.

NYMMANOW: Kick International does have a history of sanctioning some events in New York (Lou Neglia’s events) prior to the crackdown on amateur MMA in New York. Since last year’s statement by the Attorney General that amateur MMA in NY is in fact legal and unregulated by the state athletic commission, events have popped up all over the state overseen by various third party sanctioning bodies. Do you foresee any problems or concerns by throwing your hat into the mix here where amateur MMA is currently unregulated by the state?

Medina: As stated in your question Fighters Source events in NY will be regulated by the USA MMA KI Federation, which is also a sanctioning body for more than 25 states including the state of Nevada. We are confident in our relationship with our sanctioning body, USA MMA KI Federation.

NYMMANOW: A big area of concern in NY regarding amateur MMA is the issue of medical oversight (or lack of it) by the various sanctioning bodies & promoters operating here. Can you explain what medical requirements will be imposed on fighters in your organization (blood tests, physicals, eye exams, for example) and what safeguards will be taken at the event to monitor for fighter safety (ringside Doctor, paramedic, available ambulance, etc)?

Medina: Fighters Source will follow all rules and guidelines set forth by the USA MMA KI Federation. Fighters Source events will always have a fight doctor and EMS at the event. Fighters Source will always have proper event and bout insurance coverage for all of our events. Fighters will need to get blood work done and have a quick physical examination from our fight doctor before they enter the cage.

NYMMANOW: Similarly, because the state athletic commission currently has no regulatory role here, some believe NY has the potential to become a repository for fighters who can’t fight elsewhere due to medical or other suspensions. Will you clear all your fighters with the Association of Boxing Commissions national database to rule out the possibility of fighters suspended by other state and tribal commissions fighting in NY?

Medina: Fighters source, as a member of USA MMA KI Federation will ensure that medical suspensions are recorded and enforced by the federation. USAMMAF has an internal database just for amateur MMA fighter stats and reports, similar to the one operated by Association of Boxing Commission.

NYMMANOW: Amateur fighters in NY have a very difficult time researching opponents, as many promoters do not report event results to the proper databases. Does Fighter’s Source report the results of their events to the Association of Boxing Commissions database?

Medina: USAMMAF keeps a database with a current record and stats similar to the way Association of Boxing Commission keeps theirs. As members we have access to this database, we report the results into this database and will provide the information to promoters and fighters accordingly.

We will report all outcomes of each bout to the USA MMA KI Federation. The USA MMA KI Federation maintains its own database of members athletes, which is available for review by the athletes, promoters and sanctioning committees, so they can view all the fighters stats, results and suspensions. Fighters Source, through the USA MMA KI Federation, will have open discussions with ABC regarding these issues and ways to better our communications between committees. Fighters Source will always use all information provided to us by all commissions to match fighters accordingly.

NYMMANOW: Moving back to the March 23rd Kings of New York tournament format. Fighters in your events must first apply during an open try-out. Can you explain why you have used this model as opposed to more tradition match making?

Medina: Fighters Source uses tryouts to gather information about the amateur fighters and to also explain the rules and guidelines of our tournament. Since many of these fighters have no prior records and therefore this could be their first fight, we have a cardio and skills assessment at the tryout to better match them.

NYMMANOW: I notice in your amateur MMA rules that you utilize a knockdown rule. To many, this is contrary to the flavor of MMA and interrupts the flow of a bout. In fact, knockdown rules were once part of the ABC approved amateur MMA rules (first launched in NJ in 2006), but have since been removed. Can you explain why you still enforce this rule?

Medina: Fighters Source has used the knockdown rule in the past Florida events. At the NY event we will adhere to our sanctioning body USAMMAF rules and NOT use the knockdown rule.

NYMMANOW: Your Kings of New York tournament on March 23rd seemed to come out of nowhere. How long have you been working on this event and what are your future plans in New York? What comes next for the fighters who win this event?

Medina: On our December 13, 2012 show at Opium Seminal Hard Rock Casino & Hotel a press conference was held for the USA MMA KI Federation announcing national tournament starting with the Fighters Source Florida second season Prelims. At this press conference, which was chaired by Frank Babcok, Renzo Gracie, Beto Nunes and myself, we decided to commence the tournaments in New York and New Jersey area.

Fighters Source plans to have 4 to 5 shows in the New York area until we have champions in all weight class for men and women. Winners from NY-NJ events will represent the North East Region of United States and then move on through the regional events and then subsequently compete on national event. The amount of events will be determined based on how many fighters are entering the USA MMA KI Federation national tournament.

Once a national team of champions is selected, this team will represent the United States in an international competition at the Fighters Source Korea Open and fighters Source UK open.

NYMMANOW: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Is there anything else you would like to share with the NYMMANOW readers?

Medina: I would like to invite all readers to come and enjoy this professionally produced event, showcasing the best amateur MMA fighters from NY and NJ area. Come see who could be the world amateur champion and the next UFC star. Tickets available at Ticketmaster 

Friday, March 8, 2013

NYS Backtracks on Ban Language: Back to Court (Updated 4/22/13)

As I reported to you yesterday, today was deadline for the settlement process mandated by Judge Kimba Wood during the Zuffa, et. al vs NYS trial on February 13th. To get you up to speed, representatives for the NY Attorney General had stated in court that were a professional MMA promoter to seek sanctioning from one of the approved 3rd party martial art sanctioning bodies listed in the NY law, it would be legal (as it is with amateur MMA). Lawyers representing Zuffa, et. al. then quickly asked for confirmation and assurance that promotion of a live professional event would not lead to prosecution; noting that if the state would confirm this, there would be no reason to continue the trial. Given the state's history with flip-flopping on the law's interpretation, an assurance of their current stance before a judge would be critical. With NYS's lawyer unable to give said confirmation, Judge Wood ordered an attempt at settlement with a March 8th deadline.

In my February 14th report on the trial I opined:
"The critical question is whether or not the state will stand behind this interpretation of the law and not prosecute a promoter who hosts an event. This will be the meat of the settlement talks. My guess is that Attorney General Schneiderman will make no guarantees regarding future prosecution and toss the ball back to the plaintiffs as if to say "Host an event and find out."
It seems that my assessment was on target. Today the UFC released the following official statement:
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is greatly disappointed that the settlement conference scheduled today before the Federal Court has been cancelled because the New York Attorney General is no longer willing to discuss a settlement consistent with the position his Office has repeatedly taken in Court.
The Attorney General has once again changed his position on the meaning of the MMA ban in New York and we will vigorously urge the Federal Court to decide that the ban is unconstitutional.
So, as I predicted, it is back to court for Zuffa, et. al vs. NYS. Where does this leave us? Pretty much the same place we have been for years: The Senate approving legislation that would regulate professional MMA in NY, an unpredictable Assembly, and a court case proceeding in the background.

A few new things are at play however: Regardless of whether Zuffa, et. al. is victorious at the conclusion of the court case or if the ban remains in place, the trial has made it clear that under the current law a promoter willing to take a risk can hold a professional MMA event here under a third party sanctioning organization (just as the WKA has done with professional Muay Thai). If Zuffa, et. al. is victorious and the law is stricken down as unconstitutional, NYS will fall into "unregulated" territory and pro shows will be legal. Governor Cuomo has also moved away from his prior "lack of a position" and is now publicly considering the issue. So, if NYS wants to ensure proper regulation of the sport, let's hope Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will act justly this year and allow the legislation to the floor for a vote.

4/22/13 UPDATE: No real new news, just NYS flip flopping again in its interpretation of the ban language and moving to dismiss. Here is MMA Payout's Coverage

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Silver Still Vague Despite Senate Passage of MMA Legislation for 4th Year in a Row

On Wednesday, March 6th the NYS Senate passed legislation that would legalize and regulate professional MMA. If this is all too familiar, it should be. This is the 4th year in a row the Senate has passed such legislation only to see the companion bill stall in the Assembly at the hands of Speaker Sheldon Silver. 

On the heels of the Senate's passage of the bill, Silver made another one of his vague statements noting that he expects NY to have MMA one day. So, the jury is still out on this year with regard to the Assembly. Nevertheless with Majority Leader Morelle sponsoring the Assembly's companion legislation, Silver may feel more inclined to allow a vote this year.

In the shadow of this legislative pontification is tomorrow's deadline for the settlement process mandated by Judge Kimba Wood during the Zuffa, et. al vs NYS trial on February 13th. In short, representatives for the NY Attorney General stated in court that were a professional MMA promoter to seek sanctioning from one of the approved 3rd party sanctioning bodies in NY, it would be legal. Lawyers representing Zuffa, et. al. then quickly asked for confirmation and assurance that promotion of a live professional event would not lead to prosecution; noting that if the state would confirm this, there would be no reason to continue the trial. With NYS's lawyer unable to give said confirmation, Judge Wood ordered an attempt at settlement with a March 8th deadline.

Now we sit waiting to see what the Assembly will do with regard to its MMA legislation and what will become of the settlement proceedings.  Though no legislators have commented publicly on the trial to my knowledge, I suspect the settlement results will have a significant impact on the how Silver will stand with regard to this legislation (if it has not already influenced him). If the trial is dropped and a legal pathway for profesional MMA is established, outside the regulation of NYS Athletic Commission, I suspect we will see the Assembly pass the legislation this year. After all, what state will pass up on those tax dollars?

Friday, March 1, 2013

South Dakota Athletic Commission Bill Passes, MMA Ban Defeated

On Tuesday I told you about the debate in the South Dakota House about the formation of a state athletic commission and the banning on MMA. Similar to our situation in New York, the South Dakota Senate had previously approved the companion legislation and everything was riding on House passage of the bill.

South Dakota WAS one of only three states that had no athletic commission to regulate combat sports. However, despite best attempts by ignorant legislators like Representative Steve Hickey, the House bill passed yesterday by a margin of 50-20.

All that remains is the Governor's Signature to seal the deal. Governor Dennis Daugaard is historically not in favor of bringing MMA into South Dakota; even though it already exists there in a dangerous unregulated fashion.

Last year South Dakota's lack of MMA regulation made the headlines after the tragic death of Dustin Jensen. In my editorial regarding Jensen's death I had asked if the MMA community would learn something from the tragedy. Apparently, thankfully, the South Dakota legislature has. While the anti-MMA Governor could veto the bill, it is not expected as there is enough support in the House and the Senate to override it should he try.

To read a more detailed accounting of yesterday's events, check this story by David Montgomery of