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

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