Mixed martial arts is the world's fastest growing sport, and UFC President Dana White is the architect. A central element of that success is the Regulation of the sport by government bodies. As White succinctly says "We've run toward regulation."
MMA has exploded in popularity in the USA and Canada. UFC 129 for example was the largest live gate in Canadian history, exceeding the Stanley Cup, every major rock act, and the Olympics. The US and Canada provide strict government regulation of the sport.
Japan provides a tragic example of the dangers of MMA without regulation.
When Mark Coleman became the first Pride open weight Grand Prix champion, he was widely hailed as the best fighter on Earth. 'The Hammer' recalls the splendor of the Tokyo Hilton hotel, with its stunning design, service, and food.
“Then the boss hung himself in a room there,” Coleman said blunty, “and that was the end of that.”
The Jan. 9, 2003 suicide of Pride chairman Naoto Morishita was the beginning of the end.
“That’s believed to be the point in which Pride was taken over by organized crime,” explains the Japan-based crime reporter Jake Adelstein. “There’s a lot of speculation that he was killed and it was a staged suicide. And that’s when the Yakuza decided to move in.”
The ties between organized crime and the larger society in Japan are difficult for Westerners to fathom. When President John F. Kennedy visited Japan, an insufficient number of government officials were available to line the route, so Yakuza members and officials stood side by side.
However, to save face, Yakuza involvement has to be unmentioned.
"There’s the public reputation or image, which has to be preserved," Adelstein relates. "And then there’s the reality. While everyone was quite aware there was an organized crime connection, once that’s revealed, Japan’s sense of propriety demands you do something.”
That Pride-Yakuza connection was revealed in 2005, when published accounts quoted industry heavyweight Seiya Kawamata as saying that the Yakuza had a controlling interest in Pride. Further stories alleged that Kawamata himself was a member of the Yamaguchi-Gumi crime family.
Although Kawamata later denied the reports, and sued the journalist, it was over. In late 2006 FujiTV network ended its network deal with Pride, and without television, Pride died.
In early 2007 Zuffa acquired Pride for a reported $63,000,000, but for reasons that have never been revealed, never ran a single show under their banner.
Although it is not an issue with mixed martial arts, boxing had entrenched ties with organized crime, but through governement regulation, those ties were minimized, and boxing flourished for decades. Countless other potential punji sticks including death and injury, inconsistent rules, works, and much more are all minimized by government regulation.
The next major hotbed of growth for MMA apears to be in Brazil, and in an interview with MMA Junkie Radio, leading referee Mario Yamasaki discussed steps he is taking to further MMA regulation in the country of his birth.
"Brazil is no man's land," Yamasaki explains. "Anybody can do anything, and I'm trying to make it the same as the Unified Rules for the whole country."
"I go to a lot of events where they don't even have doctors or inspectors."
The problems are hardly limited to lack of medical care, but extend to officials as well. Several months ago Yamasaki reffed Royler Gracie's final bout, a losing effort vs. Japanese fighter Masakatsu Ueda at Amazon Forest Combat 1, in Manaus, Brazil.
"Royler lost the three rounds, and one of the judges gave it to Royler," Yamasaki said. "After the fight, I said, 'What are you thinking? Why did you give it to Royler?' (He said,) 'Oh, it's his last fight. He did so much for jiu-jitsu.' I said, 'C'mon, man.'
"I'm helping them start a commission and just doing my MMA courses. If somebody dies or gets hurt in Brazil, it's going to be bad for the name of the sport and for Brazil. I'm trying to make it so everybody's the same, so everybody thinks the same."
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