Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Proposal would regulate amateur mixed martial arts events

By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING – “Someone’s going to get killed.”

That’s the worry of Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, which led him to propose a new regulatory body to oversee amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) events.

The proposal would also make it a felony to arrange a fight between an amateur and a professional MMA fighter.

However, several people within the sport call the proposal heavy-handed and unenforceable.

MMA is an increasingly-popular sport in Michigan and around the country. Participants use a wide variety of martial arts to compete in fights.

Joseph Battaglia, a promoter with Birmingham-based Triple X Cagefighting that arranges professional and amateur events, is heavily critical of the bill.

The Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth regulates only professional MMA events.

“We have three to four pro matches (in Michigan) each year,” he said. “We have two to four amateur events every weekend. There’s no way the state can do it.”

Battaglia said it’s necessary to regulate amateur events, but Agema’s legislation will never work and never get passed.

Agema, Battaglia said, went to fight promoters to write his proposal, but ignored professionals who regulate events.

He said the costs in funding and manpower would be prohibitive if the state were to regulate both amateur and professional events.

The problem isn’t just the number of events that the state body would have to regulate, but the number of locations where they’re held, according to Archie Millben, a co-director at Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, a MMA organization in Waterford.

Millben said that when he oversaw pro boxing enforcement for the state, most bouts were held in the big cities. That’s not the case with amateur MMA competition.

But Agema said it’s necessary to standardize the sport across the state and get rid of promoters who ignore safety.

“There are a lot of bad actors out there,” he said. “They’ll just have a fight in a bar or a restaurant.

“We need to get qualified people in the ring.”

Ironically, the bill to increase state regulation comes at a time when GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature are calling for fewer such regulations.

The co-sponsors include Reps. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland; and Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit.

Forlini said the state should create “proper safety requirements for amateurs,” because there’s nothing protecting them right now.

The proposal would set membership fees and payments, with the money paid chiefly by promoters. Amateur fighters would pay $20 for official registration and would need to submit to physical screenings. It would require a doctor’s okay before a fighter comes back into the ring following a concussion.

“Right now you can have someone knocked out with a concussion and they’ll be back fighting the next week,” Agema said. “You used to be able to just flail around, but you can’t do that anymore.”

Battaglia said higher fees and fines would be a more effective way to encourage safety than Agema’s proposal.

He also said that the proposed 2 percent ticket fee, or $300 per event, whichever is higher, would hurt bigger, more reputable organizations.

Smaller events would hit the $300 cap, but larger events, such as one that attracted 5,000 spectators to the Palace of Auburn Hills, would have to pay the 2 percent fee.

Al Low, a co-director of Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, who once served as chair of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission, called the proposal the same old story of a legislator trying to do something when he doesn’t fully understand the repercussions.

He said his organization can effectively regulate the sport if the state allows it to.

Low also said he’s talking with legislators, including those who helped establish Michigan’s boxing regulations, to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make this right,” he said.

Low said the proposal, if passed, could stop the sport’s growing popularity and eliminate the professional leagues’ farm system.

The legislation is pending in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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