An amateur mixed martial arts promoter who advocates state regulation of the sport has a fantasy that he admits is a bit twisted.
“I thought about putting out a press release saying someone died at one of my shows, but we weren’t sure who it was,” Greg Ahrens said. “So, when the state showed up, I would say ‘Yeah, the guy died, but since you don’t require us to keep any paperwork, we don’t know who it was, and his guys just hauled him out of there.’
“Think that would get some politicians’ attention?”
The possibility of serious injury or death in an MMA cage already has.
State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) is sponsoring Legislation to create a seven-person commission, under the umbrella of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG), to regulate amateur MMA.
Professional MMA already is state-regulated by the same body that regulates pro boxing.
House Bill 4295 also would set standards for licensing, require promoters to provide a minimum level of medical insurance for fighters, set training guidelines for becoming a referee or judge and establish criminal penalties for violators.
“Young people are going to be put at risk,” without regulation, Ahrens said. “And it becomes a matter of not if, but when, somebody will get killed.”
“If nothing happens, nobody has to have a doctor on hand,” promoter Joe Donofrio said. “Nobody pays for an ambulance on hand. Nobody has the correct medical insurance. You know what’s going to happen. Somebody’s going to get killed.”
On any given weekend, there are up to a half-dozen shows operating around the state. They can consist of as few as 10 fights, and as many as 30. They operate in venues ranging from 200 seats to tens of thousands.
All such shows in Michigan have three things in common: The fighters are unpaid; the shows are conducted outside the stricture of any standardized rules, including medical requirements; and promoters have the potential to reap attractive profits.
Ahrens, whose promotions have included successful series at DeltaPlex in Walker and Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, said he made about $500,000 his first year in amateur MMA.
For every one regulated pro MMA show in the state, there are probably 100 unregulated amateur shows, where promoters don’t pay fighters or state regulators.
Rep. Hugh D. Crawford (R-Novi), chairman of the Committee on Regulatory Reform, said he expects the committee to revisit the bill quickly — perhaps as soon as next week — to allow time for revisions before deciding whether to advance it to the House floor
Without regulation, there remains the risk that some promoter — through inaction, indifference or ignorance — could create a dangerous fighting atmosphere, according to Shannon Hale, a licensed pro judge and timekeeper who operates an MMA-devoted website, fightmichigan.com, and who also testified at last week’s hearing.
“Left to their own devices,” Hale testified, “a lot of people are not going to do the right thing where mixed martial arts is concerned.”