Legislators wrestle with martial arts
Hoping to gain dollars from the booming sport of mixed martial arts, state representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill yesterday that would sanction and regulate mixed martial arts in massachusetts.
"Whether you agree with the sport or you don't, it's much better if it's regulated," said Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, before the 144-10 vote. "It's much better if it takes place in a safe environment."
The bill, sponsored by Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Charles Murphy, D-Burlington, would expand the boxing commission into an athletic commission that would receive applications for licenses for organizations to hold mixed mixed martial arts events that would require local approval. It would be up to the city or town to approve or reject a mixed martial arts license request, according to Costello.
Thirty-seven other states regulate mixed martial arts.
"This is a sport that people want to be involved in. This is a sport that brings money in. This is a sport that, all over the country, is taking off," said Rep. Brian Wallace, D-Boston.
Jorge Rivera, 37, co-owner of Rivera Mixed Martial Arts/Dragon Lair in Framingham and featured in Spike Channel's "The Ultimate Fighter 4," said his business is doing well and expects it will continue to do well regardless of the new state regulations.
"If you want to get in good shape, if you want to learn self defense, if you want to learn how to become a fighter or if you want to train like a fighter and not fight, this is your place," said Rivera in an interview.
"It's safer than boxing, hockey and football," Rivera said of mixed martial arts fighting.
But Rep. Steven D'Amico, D-Seekonk, said mixed martial arts was less benign than its supporters suggested, drawing an analogy to professional football.
D'Amico cited a study that found football players had a 19 times higher rate of dementia than non-football players. He warned that head injuries can cause chronic traumatic encephalitis, a degenerative brain disease.
"We are about to legalize a sport here that is, let's face it, professional face punching, professional face kicking, we might as well call it that," said D'Amico.
"I don't know why we want our kids to go to the Boston Garden and see these blood sports and be inspired by these blood sports. I think we are better than that."
Wallace countered that mixed martial arts had a better safety record than other recognized sports.
"Nobody has been killed in MMA, although they have been killed in pretty much every other sport," he said.
Framingham representatives, Pam Richardson and Tom Sannicandro voted in favor of the bill. Neither could be reached for comment yesterday.
"It's the fastest growing sport in the world," said Rivera. "Several fighters from Massachusetts are fighting in the biggest shows in the world."
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