This is number ninety-four in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature the longtime Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, Keith Kizer. Kizer has held his current position since 2006, and he has worked with the Commission since the mid-1990s after he first moved to Las Vegas. Kizer grew up a fan of combat sports, and that, combined with his experience as an attorney, led to his current role. As Executive Director, Kizer has been ringside for some of the greatest moments in recent combat sports’ history. He has also been at the center of some of the sports’ most recent controversies as well. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: You have been the Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission since 2006, when you took over the position after former Executive Director, Marc Ratner, moved on to working for the UFC. Prior to that, you were the lead attorney for the Nevada Gaming Commission and the Nevada Gaming Control Board. How did your education and your work experience prior to 1997, the year you started working for the Commission, lead you to a career in this particular area of law?
Keith Kizer: I’m not sure that there is any direct or perfect or even preferred avenue to get to this type of position. It’s not just with respect to Nevada, but also with other states’ commissions or larger tribal commissions. There are a lot of different executive directors or executive officers throughout the United States and they probably have very different backgrounds from one another because it is such a unique position. You are first and foremost a government administrator, but then you are also the head of that jurisdiction’s day-to-day operations for some pretty important sports – boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts. With respect to myself, I was always a fan of all three of those sports and had gone to many of the kickboxing and boxing events that had taken place in Las Vegas between 1992, when I first came to town, and 1997, when I first started working with the Commission as one of their legal counsels. So it was something where I was very much interested as a fan, and I also had watched several of the UFCs when they were available on TV or by getting them from Blockbuster back then to watch the events that had already occurred, especially the first ten or so UFCs. So it was actually one of the reasons that I had moved to Las Vegas, the ability to go and watch live fights. Back then it was limited to boxing and kickboxing, but there were still some pretty important events that took place in both those sports in Las Vegas in the early 1990s. I think that helped. I think having the attorney’s knowledge, of course, to be the attorney, but also having the knowledge of following all three sports, but especially back then the boxing and the kickboxing, helped a lot for me to come aboard and not just give proper legal advice, but to also be a sounding board for some things that might not be considered legal issues but were on the periphery.
Basically I got interested in combat sports growing up and watching Ali fights on the television with my father. I think that a lot of people of my generation, born in the mid-60s, who became fans of boxing, probably did so because of Muhammad Ali, and then later, fighters like Duran and Leonard and Hearns. They were the big stars from the 70s into the early 80s. There was a hotbed of fighters back then. I think with kickboxing, it was more the movies. We were watching the tail-end of Bruce Lee’s career, and then the rereleases that they did upon his death. Of course, the Chuck Norris movies were huge in this country and were something that we were all kind of into back then. When I came out here, and actually saw real kickboxing fights, I saw Benny “The Jet” and some of the great fighters of the early 90s. Then later when I got with the Commission, they had some nice K-1 events. We’ve continued to have them too. The last two events we had were kickboxing shows. We had one last Saturday at the Tropicana and one a couple Fridays ago in downtown Las Vegas. They were both very good events.
JB: I believe that most people, including myself, are confused about what a state's athletic Commission's responsibilities include and what the limits are to their jurisdiction. For our purposes, speaking solely about MMA, how would you summarize the Commission's involvement in MMA and what are the most common misconceptions about the Commission's role?
KK: The Commission’s role is a very limited role, but a very important and necessary role. First and foremost we are out for fighter safety. So we make sure that all these fighters have the requisite medical exams. In Nevada, for the most part, unless there is some issue with the fighter, you’re looking at MRI/MRA, physical exam, dilated eye exam, and blood work showing that they are not infectious for Hepatitis B and C and HIV. If there are issues with the fighters, then there are some special exams before he or she can be licensed and compete in Nevada. That’s always the first, most important thing, the health and safety. It starts off with the licensing medicals, but then we have very detailed weigh-in physicals. We have at least three doctors at ringside for the events. We required it even before the federal law required it. In fact, they took our regulation and made it federal law requiring an ambulance and paramedics to be at ringside. So before they get licensed, once they get licensed, before and during and after the fight, fighters get these thorough checks and have these doctors and EMTs available for service if need be. Of course we also take great pride in making sure that any post-fight medical requirements or suspensions are reported immediately to the national database and are followed strictly by the fighter before he or she can compete again.
Our second area is making sure that these fights are legitimate. Unfortunately, back in the old days, decades ago, there were fixed fights that occurred in different places throughout the world. Now, of course, in Nevada, we have the hotel and casino industry putting up these fights and they have some very important licensing matters that have nothing to do with us, in other words, their gaming licenses. In some cases these are multi-billion dollar companies. Having the casino industry definitely helps make these fights more legitimate in that regard, and that’s not to mention our own watchdog activities. We make sure that these fights are legitimate.
And then, also important, but third in line, would be making sure that these fights are as competitive as possible, that there are not any kind of mismatches. Unfortunately, it’s a one-on-one sport. You can’t rely on your teammates if the going gets rough. There are going to be fights where one fighter is outclassed by another and that fighter loses sometimes by a referee’s stoppage. By having good referees, good doctors, EMTs, and inspectors, we makes sure that the fights are as safe as possible and that these fighters are protected even if they end up losing the bout. In some cases, they win the bout but take damage in winning.
Those are the three main important safeguards that we provide. On the flipside, we are not the promoter, we are not the venue, we’re not the manager, and we’re definitely not the fighters. We try not to get involved with that. People may want us to be involved with some sort of dispute among private parties on a private contract. You got to go to court for that. We’re not a collection agency. We’re not a court of law. We do have some abilities, if the parties agree, to arbitrate certain fighter/manager agreements. Short of that, our role as the government is very limited, as it should be. A lot of times, people will say, “You should do this or do that. Get this fight to Vegas or resolve this issue between a promoter and a fighter.” That’s not within our power. We cannot and will not exceed our jurisdiction.
JB: The Commission, as I understand it, is made up of five members, appointed by the Governor, for a three year term. The Chairman is one of those five, elected annually by the five members. The members appoint you, the Executive Director, but you do not have a vote on the Commission's actions. So does that mean that you and your staff carry out and maintain what the Commission determines, or is there a better way to explain your particular role?
KK: Foundationally, that’s the best way to describe it. The Commission sets the policy. They determine certain things directly, but they set the policy for how other decisions are made at the staff level, usually by me. I run the day-to-day operations with the staff here, but ultimately the five commissioners are the decision makers. They’re the gubernatorial appointees. They all work very hard and study these issues that come before them. Obviously, not every issue can be dealt with by them. They defer to me on many of the issues, just as I defer to the inspectors or the ring officials when it’s time for them to do their jobs. I never tell anyone how to judge a fight or referee a fight. They have to do it as they see fit. They are the ultimate decision makers on those issues. We obviously get involved with the selection of officials and the training of officials, etcetera, but the ultimate decision makers on the important issues are the five commissioners. I give them the recommendations that they need. I give them the information that they’ve requested. But at the end of the day, it will be the five of them that make the ultimate decisions.
JB: During your tenure as Director, what have been some of the Commission's key decisions in changing the way the sport of MMA is regulated?
KK: With MMA, the sport came before the Commission’s involvement of course. With boxing, that happened too, but that was so long ago. It was really quite different before commissions got involved. With MMA, it was obviously a lot later that these things occurred. In fact, we didn’t start regulating MMA until the fall of 2001. Comparatively speaking, it’s still a relatively new sport for us compared to kickboxing and especially boxing. With that being said, the good thing about it, even without the lack of historical guidance, was the fact that from the get-go, we were able to have unified rules within most, if not all, of the other states. With boxing, even as late as the late 90s, things were not only different among the states, they were also different within the same commissions. In our commission, there were events that had different rules for different boxing matches that occurred on the same exact card and in the same exact venue. We never had that issue with MMA, which I think is a good thing. The more certainty you have with the rules, the better. That doesn’t mean that the rules don’t have to change from time to time, and they have. We have had some rules modified to see how they work. I think that any change that has been made has been made for a very good reason and has improved the regulation of the sport. The other thing, which is not really related to MMA but is more general, is that the Commission as a whole was increasing the frequency of the drug testing and increasing the sophistication of the drug testing. Also, related to health and safety issues, the Commission was getting medical groups in here to help study the sports that we regulate. MMA is a great example. There have been free MRIs and free MRAs and other medicals being done for these fighters when they are part of a long-term study on fighter’s health, especially brain health. It’s being done by the Cleveland Clinic, based here. They are a satellite office, here in Las Vegas, at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Now, not only are you getting these athletes some free medical examinations that save them money, but it also lets them know exactly how their health is at a very specific level. It also helps the greater good of the sport. There will be more questions answered than in the past. Actual studies of actual athletes in this actual sport will lead to better guidelines for how to treat these fighters before the fight or after the fight with respect to either licensing issues or competition issues. Hopefully, it can also help other athletes in other sports or even the general public. People having auto accidents, falls, or even muggings, where there are some sort of closed head injuries, can hopefully benefit by the studies being done by the Cleveland Clinic and other groups to help make the sport safer.
JB: What are the Commission's most pressing concerns right now regarding fighters' safety in MMA?
KK: The head injuries are always the biggest concern. There are other injuries that the fighters face and there are the other concerns that we talked about with making sure the fights are legitimate. It’s not just a matter of making sure the fights are real. It’s also making sure that both participants are giving their best and that the fights are competitive even thought there might be a heavy favorite in one of these fights. The other person should have a fair chance to win. You see that a lot in MMA. I give a lot of credit to MMA, and not just the UFC, but to other groups that have been here, where they have done a very good job of matchmaking. You see that a lot more in MMA and kickboxing than you do in boxing unfortunately. I wish it was better in boxing. We’re actually pretty strict and have turned down more matchups than the matchmakers would like to see in boxing. I really don’t have that issue with MMA and kickboxing. I give a lot of credit to the matchmakers in MMA and you can see that for yourself when you see the undercards in MMA and see how competitive a lot of these fights are. A lot of times the underdog, or the listed underdog, ends up prevailing. There are obviously a lot of ways to win in MMA and a lot of ways to lose in MMA.
Health and safety will always be paramount. That’s why this sport is regulated by the government and other sports aren’t. This is assault and battery. This is something that would be illegal if not for state regulation. Therefore, it has to be a very tight regulation, but hopefully it is very sensible as well. Even before the Ruvo Institute came to town, when I took over, we got West Valley Imaging involved to do some studies on MRIs. We also had John Hopkins involved with some things. A couple other medical groups and institutions have been involved with studying different things, but usually it’s brain injuries. There are other things too like dehydration issues and general injuries in MMA. That’s what John Hopkins, I believe, was looking at, general injuries in MMA. That helps a lot.
One of my biggest challenges when I took over was getting the medical community as a whole to pay attention. They were tripping all over themselves to work with Major League Baseball or work with the NFL. Maybe those groups weren’t very welcoming, but we’ve always been welcoming. It seemed that the medical community, unless it was people who wanted to be a ringside doctor, pretty much looked down on boxing and mixed martial arts for whatever reason. Many of them think that it is a very brutal sport, and maybe, perhaps, they don’t think it should even be allowed to be run by anybody. I understand that position. I understand people who say, “Hey, that sport is too violent for me,” or “I don’t agree with that sport.” That’s fine. It’s your opinion and you are entitled to it. It is legal and we’re going to have these events. So let’s do what we can to makes these sports as safe as possible and get these fighters the treatment that they need. It has helped with us having these different medical groups involved in these studies and these examinations of these fighters and getting the proper medical requirements in place. You don’t want to overregulate and have fighters get examinations and pay for things that aren’t really going to help make a determination on either whether they are safe to fight or whether they have the proper post-fight medical suspension, if any. But you also want to make sure that what is needed is required and done. So we go through that pretty seriously, both with the pre-fight medical licensure as well as the post-fight requirements placed on the fighter due to the damage during that fight.
JB: What about performance enhancing drugs? What is the stage that you are at now when it comes to testing and what are your concerns at the moment?
KK: I think if you look at what the Commission has done, especially over the last five years, I’m very proud of what the Commission has been able to accomplish. When you look at what happened before then, a lot of it was because the technology was not what it is now and there wasn’t the ability to do what we are able to do. Now we’ve basically gone from testing 25% of the fighters to testing 99.9% of the fighters for performance enhancing drugs. Also, we’ve put into place a better ability to collect the samples. There are more safeguards and more time for the inspectors to do other things like check hand wraps and work corners. Also we’ve got the ability to do some out-of-competition drug testing that didn’t happen before. If you actually look at what people were complaining about five or six years ago about drug testing in boxing or MMA, those issues have been resolved. There are no logistic issues or things like that. People were complaining back in the day for us to test everybody. There were reasons that we weren’t able to test everybody back then, but now we have found solutions and we do test everybody. We are also doing the out-of-competition testing to an extent as well. We’re pleased with where it is at now and pleased with the fact that we’re also going beyond that. We just finished up a very good medium-term study on the steroid and drug testing that we do and had an advisory panel that added some additional recommendations to what we were already looking to do. Some of those have already been put into place. It was only earlier in September when we got the report from the panel. It’s good to do that. With a lot of these things, not just the health and safety issues, but all of these issues, you need to be flexible enough to make changes when they are needed, but you also make sure that the changes that you are making are going to be for the benefit of the sport and the athletes. You don’t want to be making them just for cosmetic reasons without doing the proper homework. You can see a lot of changes, especially over the last five years, and all of them have worked out quite well and we are looking forward to doing even more as conditions arise.
JB: What led to the Commission's recent raising of its cannabis testing threshold?
KK: Cannabis has always been interesting because, with all the experts that we’ve talked to over the years, it’s one of the drugs, especially the most prevalent drug that is tested for, where the ability to figure out how much or when the athlete took the drug is limited. Some things, obviously, are always a no-no. Nandrolone, Stanozolol, these diuretics, those are easy and there is a no tolerance policy there. But with the things that are only banned in-competition, things that can’t be in your blood or urine during the competition but are okay at other times, limits are raised based on time. So that is a lot more difficult to deal with because you’re dealing with time issues instead of an absolute ban. On top of that, with Cannabis, it may vary very widely with two athletes having the same levels in their systems. It may vary widely how much they ingested or when they last ingested or, in this case, inhaled the drug. That makes it very difficult.
What we had done years ago, back in the day before I was Executive Director, when I was the attorney for the Commission, was raise the threshold from 15 to 50. The real reason for that was passive inhalation arguments. We were getting a lot of those arguments, and some of them, if not all of them, probably weren’t based on fact. Nevertheless, we had those arguments so we raised it up to 50. It got to the point where we got rid of a lot of those arguments. If anyone was like, “I was in a room,” or “I walked by a room where guys were smoking. I didn’t realize and I got out of the room,” well then they wouldn’t get anywhere near 50. So that basically took away those arguments. I don’t really think that it was a very valid argument in the first place, but it certainly wasn’t a very valid argument once we raised it from 15 to 50. However, even at 50, there could be a situation where the detection time could be up to a month from when the drug was last inhaled. That is different from the other drugs that we test for like cocaine, alcohol, or opiates, where the detection time was more or less from a few hours to a few days. So it was always kind of out-of-whack with the other in-competition banned drugs. It was something not just related to sports. It was difficult with criminal matters or other regulatory matters too. It created almost a zero tolerance policy even though it was not supposed to be banned out-of-competition.
So the question was, “What is the number? If it’s not 50, how do we put it in line with the other drugs of abuse?” We wanted the detection time to be more like 3 to 5 days rather than 20 to 30 days. The experts were all basically saying that there is no magic number for that. Going from 15 to 50 was the magic number for getting rid of any kind of argument about passive inhalation, but there is no number, no matter where you are at, for what we were looking for. So the drug experts and the people who set these policies, including WADA, thought that they better be safe than sorry, and had a number that was lower. It’s not like the drug now has different effects on human beings than it did ten years ago, but it got to the point where we formed this panel at the end of last year. One of their missions was to find out where this number should be. We knew it was higher than 50, but how much higher, we didn’t know. It might be a little higher or a lot higher. So they were looking at that issue basically at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. I think then, sometime in the spring of this year, WADA came out and, unbeknownst to us, they were looking at the issue as well and for similar reasons, I believe. They came out with the number 150. We actually talked a lot about how we understood that there was no magic number and wondering how they came to that number. They were very forthright. They said, “We came to that number for political reasons.” There was no scientific basis behind it. The other number was lower than it should have been because of the “better safe than sorry,” conservative approach, and just because of the nature of the drug and the rap that it had gotten over the years, unfairly in my mind.
So they did the right thing and raised it up, but they said that the 150 level is not a guarantee of anything. There are going to be some people that it is still too conservative for and there will be other people that it will be too liberal for. We had to find a number higher than 50 and that made the most sense. We went with that number for two reasons. One was to have uniformity. A lot of these athletes compete as amateurs as well. Some come from Olympic wrestling. Others come from amateur boxing and other things like Judo. But that was really the secondary reason. The primary reason was that even though there is no magic number for getting to where we want to go with the detection level, by making it more akin to the other drugs of abuse that are tested only in-competition, the 150 seemed to play into that. With the idea that no number is perfect, 150 is one that if you stop a week out or so, the odds of you being 150 at competition time are almost nil. The concern, of course, is that people are going to think, “They tripled the number. I can smoke the day of the weigh-in. I used to stop ten days before. Now I’ll stop ten hours before.” Unfortunately, it would be counterproductive in that situation. I hope that athletes don’t use it as a justification not to do the right thing. I think the bottom line is if you are below 150, the concern of it either giving you any benefit or, more importantly, it putting you at a detriment, is pretty much zero. That’s what we were looking for.
JB: The result of the Mayweather-Alvarez bout, because of one of the judge’s scorecards, brought a lot of attention to the Commission. Does that actually put pressure on your office and the decisions that the Commission makes when public figures, politicians, fans, and fighters are pointing fingers at the Commission?
KK: You say pressure like it’s a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are first and foremost a government agency before we’re even a sports’ regulatory body. So we take very seriously any concerns raised by members of the public, whoever they are, and even if we are not in agreement with their concerns or their views. People have the right to express their opinions. All I ever really asked was for them to try to do it in a professional manner and to try to do it in an honest manner. Unfortunately, some people aren’t able to comply with those two things, but most people are and I appreciate that. I talked to a lot of fans after that event, and I think all of my interactions with the fans were positive from my standpoint, but hopefully also from each fan’s standpoint. The same goes with the press. The same goes with anyone else involved with the situation, including the promoter in this case.
Again, I don’t necessarily think that pressure is a bad thing. I think you need to be fair. I think people need to look at all the facts and not just the facts that help their argument. If you take a look at that, you still might come to the same conclusion, but my point of view has always been that we’re going to look at everything. We’re going to look at all the aspects that come into play in all these situations. I think we’ve done that to the extent that we’ve been able to so far. People, sometimes, they just want action and not necessarily the action that might be most appropriate. They just want action, period. You have got to be able to resist that and do the right thing. We have to take our time, do what we need to do in the situation, and come to the best conclusion that there is with the best plan of action that there is. That usually works pretty well.
As far as pressure politically, that goes to the Commission. It goes to the commissioners. That doesn’t come to me. They make the ultimate decisions if they want to change certain things. I give them my input, but they make the final call on that. For the most part, since I’ve been around, almost 16 years now, I can tell you that the commissioners are pretty much immune from any sort of undue pressure or unfair pressure put upon them. But they are also going to be very cognizant of any interested party, including the fans, to try to improve the regulatory situation the best that they can. You’re dealing with sports that are so subjective in nature when the scoring system comes into play. It’s not just judging. It’s reffing as well. When do you stop a fight? When do you allow a fight to continue? When do you take a point for a foul? When do you not take a point for a foul? It’s very unique and very subjective and that comes into play as well.
One of the things that I always find kind of interesting is that when there is a controversial decision, and the judges may disagree on that decision, it happens quite often that the mainstream press in the sport are pretty much in disagreement too. It seems that they ignore the fact that they disagreed on the rounds, but they think that the fact that the judges disagreed on the rounds must mean that something is wrong with the judges or the scoring system, etcetera. It could just be that there were some close rounds, and depending on how you scored them, it definitely affected who you had winning the fight or if you had a draw or something along those lines. That comes into play a lot.
This is a sport where not only is it subjective, but it’s round by round. Especially in a twelve round fight in boxing there could be a situation where, as happened in the Mayweather-Alvarez fight, if you have the fight even on the scorecard, it does not mean that the judge felt that the fighters were dead even in the ring in their performances against one another. You could have a situation where a fighter, in the rounds he won, he won pretty big, though they weren’t to the level of 10-8s. And the rounds he lost were very close, but they weren’t to the level of 10-10. I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened with Mayweather-Alvarez, but that’s what has happened in the past.
In fact, one of the reporters that I talked to had Mayweather-Cotto a 114-114 draw for that very reason. The rounds he gave to Mayweather, he gave easily, but the rounds he gave to Cotto, he gave very closely. He had it 114-114 for that fight, but even he admits that Mayweather was definitely the better fighter over Cotto. That happens and that’s the nature of it.
It happens even in other sports. I always refer to the 1960 World Series where for the three games that the Yankees won, they won by numerous runs, several runs difference. But in the four games that they lost, they lost by one or two runs. So overall they scored twice as many runs as the Pirates, but they lost four games to three. I’m sure the Yankees fans back then were very upset about it, but that’s the nature of the sport. The same thing happens with these sports as well. You go round by round, and assuming there is not a 10-8 or a 10-7 due to dominance, then you are going to have 10-9s most of the time, especially when you have very competitive matchups. This usually occurs in the MMA world. You’ll have a situation, especially in a three round fight, where one round will make a difference.
The fight was close. So hopefully people will understand why you could have two different people watching the fight with the same exact criteria, but one person has it for fighter A, 2-1, the other person has it for fighter B, 2-1, or it could even be 3-0 vs. 3-0 if all the rounds were close. I think that most people understand that it’s just the nature of the sport. We’ve looked at whether there’s a way to do it better, if there’s a better system that could be put in place. The ABC really looked at it with a committee chaired by Nick Lembo, and where I kind of worked with him very closely. We looked at a lot of different systems and none of them were any better. In fact, they were all worse. So it gets to the point where the fighters know that going in that this is the system. They know that close rounds are scored in such a way. I’m sure that, from their point of view, every fighter thinks that they won every close round that they were ever involved with, but the judges may disagree for legitimate reasons.
JB: We’ve seen you well-coiffed and well-dressed, ringside and on many episodes of TUF. Probably long before most fans really knew who you were, they recognized you from the weigh-ins on TUF. Putting aside your professional role, when you have been part of some these historic MMA events, considering that you are a combat sports fan, what are a few fights or events that have been some of the most memorable as sheer spectacles?
KK: We obviously get a lot of big fights out here. I’m appreciative of the promoters having their faith in us as well as in the Nevada gaming industry. There are usually one or two casinos sponsoring the events. It’s very good to be able to deal with the TV networks and have a good relationship with all of them. They appreciate how they’re able to work with us pretty easily and they appreciate how easy it is to deal with the hotel situation since they’re on-site at the venues for the most part. It’s just amazing to go to these big events. We do not have an NFL team. We do not have a Major League Baseball team. We do not have an NBA team here in Nevada. So when it comes to major league sports, you’re talking about boxing, kickboxing, and, of course, mixed martial arts. I always tell people how important combat sports are to the state of Nevada, but also how important the state of Nevada is for combat sports. With other jurisdictions who aren’t as well-versed or who aren’t as experienced as we are, like sometimes a new tribe starting up an athletic commission or some foreign jurisdiction that just legalized mixed martial arts, when they ask themselves how they should regulate this sport, they answer their question with a question – “How does Nevada do it?” It’s great when I have people contact me and say that they are going to copy our regulations or that they’re going through our regulations and are going to pretty much adopt them as their regulations but they have a question about this or that. I do the same thing too. Especially when I was the attorney, looking to make regulatory changes on something the Commission wanted to change, I’d go and look at New Jersey or New York or Ohio or California or Florida or some of the other states as well that have done some of these events. Back then, it was boxing for the most part. How do they regulate it? Let’s not try to reinvent the wheel and let’s try to be uniform if we can. If not, we make our own changes, share it with them, and hopefully they’ll change their rules. More often than not, I was able to find the answer with their regulations if there was something we hadn’t looked into or hadn’t actually codified yet. That’s kind of the starting point.
The events we had when I first came aboard were right after Tyson got revoked for the ear biting incident. Then he made a comeback for a couple events in Nevada. Those were pretty amazing. We had the Lewis-Holyfield rematch here, which was very electric as well. Then, specific to MMA, people are still talking about UFC 100 kind of being the benchmark, not just financially speaking, but for how the arena was that day. It’s always electric for a UFC, be it at the MGM or at the Mandalay Bay, but that night was really something special. I think they pulled out all the stops for that. They’re talking about doing something similar for the December 28th card. I hope they’re successful with that.
It’s kind of strange in a good way that a lot of these events kind of run together. Since the end of 1997, we’ve had many events at the MGM or the Mandalay Bay or the Thomas & Mack or The Joint at the Hard Rock or the Pearl Theater at the Palms. Those are just five of the venues of the many that have events here. Even some of the events that we have at the smaller casinos have facilities there that top some of the bigger venues in other cities around the United States or around the world because, again, you have the support of the casino industry to host these events in these very technologically advanced, audience friendly, venues. Be it at a ballroom or be it at an arena or be it at a conference center or something along those lines, it’s always pretty modern, pretty audience friendly, and pretty accommodating to the fighters. A lot of the fighters are like, “Wow. These locker rooms are incredible. I’ve fought all around the world. I never had something like this.” That makes me happy when I hear that as well. Hopefully, the fighters, the people involved with television, as well as the promoters and the managers are very pleased with the venues.
TUF was a strange experience at first. It was something where the UFC wasn’t quite sure of how they were going to do it. They knew that they needed to do something. They had met with me and Marc and a couple of the commissioners to kind of describe their plans of how they were going to do The Ultimate Fighter. They had a general idea, but they hadn’t quite figured it out yet. We had given them our experience dealing with “The Contender.” The Contender ended up not filming their day-to-day show here because they were not able to get the support from the casino that they wanted to work for as far as housing the fighters and feeding the fighters and things like that. They actually took that back to California, did the show there, but their ultimate goal was to have the finale in Las Vegas no matter what it cost them. They ended up having that Finale at Caesars Palace. It went quite well, but the show itself, fairly or unfairly, got a lot of criticism for how they handled the reality aspect of it. It was not just in the ring, where they were doing sound effects and only showing part of the fight and breaking it up and showing slow motion during the round, but they were also criticized with how they dealt with picking alternates and things like that. Whether that affected them negatively at the end, I don’t know.
So the issue with The Ultimate Fighter was that they wanted to find a way to learn from what The Contender had done, but add to it. I think they did a very good job from day one. I think it was a very successful show. As they filmed it, it went very well, and then part of the question was how they should show it. I remember talking with them and saying, “You guys should show the entire fights and not add any kind of silly sound effects and things like that or stop it to show replays and so on.” They ended up doing that, which I think was a very wise move by them. The rest, as they say, is history.
They’re very serious on the show. I think it’s been shown by some of the events that unfortunately have happened with some of these fighters. Some of them have needed to be kicked off the show. They take it very seriously. They monitor these fighters in training. So if a fighter wins the fight but gets injured during the show, they are able to limit the sparring they do after and get them seen by doctors on a daily basis to see if the injury is resolved enough to let them fight a week or two later. Sometimes it isn’t, and the fighter has to drop out. Of course, right off the bat it happened with Nate Quarry in season one. But it’s great to have that ability. A lot of times you’ll give a fighter a suspension and then he goes home and you don’t know what he’s doing. He might be in the gym the next day sparring. Here that doesn’t happen. A lot of times, if it’s a cut or something similar to that, there might be five fights until he fights again, but the UFC might be checking him every day and our doctors, when they go there to do the other fights, they’ll check on him as well and the progress of his cut or injury. Then if the injury can be resolved rather quickly, the fighter can fight again two weeks later or whatever it may be. That’s worked very well over the years. We have more control than when a fighter leaves your sight after a normal fight here. I think it has been safer because of that, even though the fighters are probably fighting more often than they are used to. But a lot of times they are shortened fights, two-round fights or a fighter wins right off the bat. So it has worked out really well over the years and I think they have done it pretty much perfectly with how they manage the show, manage the fighters, and how they’ve shown the show thereafter. That is the in the ring stuff. The out of the ring stuff I try not to worry about too much.
JB: Last question, Keith, and thanks for taking the time to do this. You have held your current position for seven years. How much longer do you anticipate working in this capacity and what professional plans or goals do you have for the future?
KK: I really don’t look too far ahead. It’s hard to know what could be better than this as far as being involved in the regulation of mixed martial arts. This is seen as the premier commission, and we have not just some of the biggest fights here but a lot of great fights here every year. Even the non-televised or mid-level cards that we have are great. So as far as being involved in the regulation of mixed martial arts, I don’t think there is an ability to do anything more important or more exciting than this position. But I never planned to have this position. I was more than happy being the attorney for the Athletic Commission as well as the Gaming Commission. To be the lead attorney both in the gaming realm and the boxing realm was a great position to be in. It was actually a surprise to me when Marc left and I was offered to move into his position. I’m glad I did take it. It’s much more exciting to be the client than it is to be the attorney, but you are also out there more. You put yourself at a little more risk of criticism, but that’s okay. You have to be ready for that and do the best that you can and take from the criticism what is helpful to make things better in the future and to be able to sift out what isn’t helpful. It’s actually easier than it sounds. As far as future plans, I don’t have any plans to leave here. I’m pleased doing what I can. I love living in Las Vegas. It’s a great place to live and it’s pretty much unlimited when it comes to the sporting world. These big fights that we have in Nevada are the main events that take place in the state. As I mentioned before, these events are not only so important to us, but we are so important to these events. There is a lot more pressure, but it adds a lot more pride to it as well.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, Kevin Randleman, Dennis Hallman, Daniel Cormier, and dozens more.
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