Why Saturday will be one of the most important days in the sport's history
California has the led the world in countless ways since its founding in 1850. From gold and water to movies and climate change, California is the future. Mixed martial arts is no exception.
There are twice as many amateur as pro fights in MMA. However, while the pros benefit from the full effect of regulatory protection, amateurs enjoy a far more precarious existence, with their health and safety looked after on a far more haphazard basis, varying enormously from state to state to province to municipality to tribal nation. This is profoundly unfortunate, as amateurs by and large don’t yet know what they are doing, and thus generally need more, rather than less regulation.
California employs a unique system, with amateurs sanctioned by the pioneering non-profit California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMMO), founded by Jeremy Lappen and JT Steele, while pros are regulated by the official California State Athletic Commission. However, CAMMO, as excellent an organization as it is, lacks the full resources and authority of an involved government body.
Amateurs develop their skills for years, until they are so good they can fight at the professional level. However, as strength and speed and striking and wrestling and submissions are developing, so too can bad, bad, bad habits, and potentially bad, bad, bad medical issues.
One of the two most dangerous issues in our sport is the culture of extreme weight cutting. In the amateur ranks the problem receives precious little attention so by the time an athlete turns pro, it has become a defining part of the fighter’s game, and thus is critically hard to change.
The other most dangerous issue in MMA is concussion and head trauma, and in a hurting game, that can’t be fully solved. But it can to a degree, by moving on from fighting to other critical roles like coaching.
The third tip of the deadly trident in MMA is performance-enhancing drug use. And once again, while the professional ranks are tested, amateurs are not, so again, deadly habits can develop, and fester, and grow.
But real change is coming this week, and it makes so much profound sense that the rest of the sport will eventually follow.
Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy 1: 'Liddell vs Ortiz 3' on Nov. 24, will feature a historic moment for our sport. Liddell vs Ortiz 3 will feature amateurs on the undercard, and in an unprecedented step, CAMMO, CSAC, and the non-profit Contact Sports Foundation (CSF) are cooperating to bring the full benefits of the most progressive regulation in MMA to the amateur ranks.
CAMMO is embracing relevant portions of CSAC executive director Andy Foster’s 10-Point plan to address the culture of extreme weight cutting. Further, the CSF is donating a dehydration scale, which is vital to the process. Over time, amateurs will get used to not suffering through the “fight before the fight” and when they enter the pro ranks will be able to understand the insanity in the current system of staggering to a scale with compromised organs, prior to expecting the highest level of human performance attainable.
As well, CSAC is proving CAMMO personnel with access to and training in the C3Logix concussion management system, which establishes a baseline of cognitive function to observe change over time. ‘Big’ John McCarthy, who has served the sport continuously in an advisory capacity since its exception, addresses the importance.
"We are all built the same, but we’re all different [too],” he explains. “There are people who can accept damage, and it doesn’t change them. And there are people who a little damage really effects them.”
In basketball, if you are short, the sport selects against you. Fighting is the same way. Some people can’t take a shot the same way others can. But the effects are insidious, and sometimes only show obviously after retirement, when they become inescapable, and irreparable. Once the diagnosis of CTE comes, there is no cure.
However, the CSLogix system can show that a person is falling subtly but significantly from their baseline, and that information could very, very, very well become the most important information in that person’s entire life. Then someone in a positive of responsibility can sit with a fighter and explain, and impart life-saving wisdom - “This could change your life for the rest of your years.”
Due to the cost of PED testing, it is done only in the pro ranks. However, basic urine tests are fairly cheap. What is expensive is the follow-up tests to determine exactly what the failure was for. The CSF has nobly stepped up and volunteered to cover the high cost of the follow-up testing.
Martha Shen-Urquidez, attorney, black belt, and member of the preeminent Urquidez combat sports family, vitally serves as a CSAC Commissioner and was central to the founding of the CSF.
“The amateur MMA competitive world is becoming its own industry,” she explains. “The number of licensed amateur athletes has surpassed the pros in some states. So amateurs should be as well regulated as pros, if not better! We should start the next generation of fighters with the idea that this is a clean sport, where health, nutrition, and proper weight-cutting are understood. As they get into the professional world, they should already be in the correct mindset.”
The sport frequently sees state athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies at odds, with predictable results. By contrast, Foster and Shen-Urquidez foster cooperation.
“Everyone has to do this together,” she explains. “This is for the good of the athletes and the good of the sport. If we are going to maintain credibility, regulatory bodies, promoters, athletes, everybody has to work together.”
And it is starting. On Saturday.