Call for Amateur MMA regulation in Washington State

by John Stang | source:

Fight promoter Brian Halquist told the legislators about about going to an amateur mixed martial arts tournament in a Tacoma bar four years ago. One fighter didn't show up. Some guy got recruited from the crowd to fill in the spot — and got creamed.

"And it's legal in this state," the Tacoma-based boxing and mixed martial arts fight promoter told the Washington House's Business and Financial Services Committee last month.

For the upcoming legislature, the safety of the increasingly popular mixed martial arts events could be an issue. Although lawmakers have a record of ignoring bills to create stronger Regulation, there is support among a substantial segment of those involved with the fights to create state regulation.

Professional mixed martial arts fights follow national-level safety rules. But almost anythings goes in amateur bouts in Washington. Each promoter sets his own safety rules. So, numerous safety features are optional: pre-fight physicals, an ambulance, on-site doctors, blood tests for hepatitis, even ensuring fighters are evenly matched in size and experience.

"It's a matter of time in that someone will die in an unregulated amateur MMA fight in this state," Halquist told the committee.

"We're seeing more and more fly-by-night operations," said state Rep. Tami Green, D-Tacoma.

For years, Green has regularly introduced a bill in the legislature to regulate amateur MMA bouts — prompted by a request fom the Washington Department of Licensing and her son's interest in the  sport. Annually, that bill dies. One year, the bill died because a legislator did not like its name. Another year, it got stalled in a debate on the legal liability of a bout's physician. One year, it just got lost in the shuffle of higher-priorities and never made it to a floor vote.

Green plans to introduce the bill again for the upcoming session. Much of the state's MMA world has indicated that it backs an amateur-MMA-safety law, and Green — possessing a black belt in Taekwondo — hopes that support will get a bill through this time.

"We have a lot of rogue people making up their own rules," said Susan Colard, a Washington Department of Licensing official.

Every few weeks, professional boxing and MMA  bouts are held at Tacoma's Emerald Casino. No one has a comprehensive handle on Washington's amateur bouts, other than they are numerous and popular.

Today in Washington, an amateur fighter can suffer a concussion one day and still be legally allowed to fight the next day.

During the legislative hearing, Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor and a Business and Financial Service Committee member, asked, "Have there been a series of accidents in amateur fights? ... Is there a real problem [or] just the anticipation of a problem?"

Frank Wright, general manager of the Emerald Casino, told the committee that since many amateur bout organizers don't touch bases with the state, "we don't know if there is a problem. Those injured in unsanctioned bouts don't tell anyone and just got to the hospital."

Committee chairman Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, and Green said concerns exist about overkill with too many state regulations for amateur bouts. "We're not trying to grow the government's footprint," Green said.

If an amateur MMA-safety bill is passed, it will allow promoters to save money with mixed pro-am tournaments where a full fight card would include some amateur fights, where no prize would have have to be paid, fight promoter Halquist said. "Still, fighter safety is the most important thing," he said.

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tags: Legislation   Regulation   Washington   

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