Lawmakers in both the state House and Senate are considering bills to legalize Mixed Martial Arts in West Virginia.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Representative Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, introduced the bills, respectively.
Brandon Horner wants to see the bill pass. He develops his mixed martial arts fighting skills three days a week at the Freestyle MMA Training Center in Fairmont, and aspires to win an MMA amateur title before he turns professional.
"The goals from there just get better and better," he said.
Many people compare MMA to boxing, another fighting sport. Like boxing, MMA bouts play on pay-per-view television and prove popular at live venues. Unlike boxing, MMA is not legal in West Virginia.
Some parties want to keep it that way.
"The problem that I have medically with MMA and I'm most concerned with is the health and well-being of the fighter," said Dr. Allen Saoud, the senior fight phyisician for the state of West Virginia. "In MMA they have something called ground and pound where actually you put the person down on the canvas and then physically take your fist elbow or knees and then beat on him."
Dr. Saoud, who has worked at MMA fights in Ohio, says that while boxers only fight standing up, MMA fighters can apply up to one ton of force when they beat an opponent against the ground. MMA fights are also allowed to use elbows and knees to punch, which poses an exaggerated danger to the opponent, he said.
During MMA bouts in Ohio, he said he's seen this cause serious injuries.
"We really have to be very careful when we allow people to damage the head and spinal column," he said.
The gear also marks a stark difference between boxing and MMA fighting. Boxers use a heavier, more padded glove, whereas MMA fighters use a lighter, more open glove that allows for a stronger fist punch.
But, proponents say there are ways to make MMA safe, just like in any other sport.
"We wear head gear and mouthpieces, and have great trainers that focus on our protection as much as they do on our skills," Horner said. "I don't really have any concerns."
Freestyle owner Rod Michael believes that when his team is forced to travel to other states, West Virginia loses a valuable financial opportunity.
"We stayed in their hotels and ate at their restaurants," Michael said. "That's a lot of money that's going to their states that could be here. And I think MMA is very popular here and I think it could bring a lot of money to the state."
Horner says he just wants to perform more often and closer to home.
"The frequency that we take fights would definitely increase," he said. "We wouldn't have to pool together funds to cram into a hotel room. We could stay local and we could fight local for the fans in our own state."
The bills are both in the introductory phase, according to the legislature's Web site.
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