Keith Kizer doesn’t mind being a scapegoat. Truth be told, he kind of enjoys it.
As executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Kizer regularly absorbs the blame for perceived wrongdoings of every variety:
•Shoddy judging? Blame Kizer, who handpicks the cageside officials.
•Fight stopped too soon? Not soon enough? Blame Kizer, who screens and approves the referees.
•Was your favorite fighter deemed unfit to compete? That was probably Kizer.
•Drug testing too stringent? Not stringent enough? Testing for the wrong substances? Targeting the wrong fighters? Sure, blame Kizer for all those, too.
“I welcome criticism,” the chatty and chipper Kizer tells Fighters.com over the phone from his Las Vegas office. “None of us are above criticism. I welcome honest criticism – whether it is constructive or correct or not – as long as it’s honest.”
“Do I think that people over-criticize the refs? Yes, but that’s part of the fun,” he says.
“In every basketball game I’ve ever gone to, every time a foul is called, half the place is yelling about how bad the referee is. That’s part of what you do as a fan. After fights, everyone agrees that the judges are horrible, but they disagree on everything else when it’s close, which I find somewhat amusing.”
That’s not to say Kizer merely shrugs off criticism – he takes it seriously and continually reviews the way his office conducts its duties – but he’s realistic about how his role will continue to be perceived by fans and fighters alike.
“I take my job very seriously,” he says. “What we’re focusing on is making the sport as safe as possible, as legitimate as possible and as competitive as possible.”
Because Nevada is the de facto home of combat sports, Kizer’s commission is a kind of litmus test for how boxing and MMA are regulated throughout the rest of North America. This makes Kizer arguably the most influential governing authority in combat sports.
He has been an integral part of MMA’s evolution from what many critics perceived as a barbaric bloodbath to a closely-regulated, statistically-safe sport with mainstream respectability.
“I, like most people, am very happy when people fight clean,” he says. “I’m not hoping that people will fight dirty, just so I can catch them and make a case against them. We would much prefer to have a deterrent effect. Our biggest goal is to deter the use in the first place.”