State Rep: MI amateur MMA ‘an absolute disgrace’

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mixed martial arts started as a spectacle; an early press release bragged “anything can happen, even death.”

The sport has since become regulated, and is now the world’s fastest growing. However, the regulation is not uniform, most notably in Michigan, where amateur MMA is legal and proliferating, with no oversight what so ever.

Michigan has so egregiously failed to adequately regulate amateur Mixed Martial Arts that the Association of Boxing Commissions last year took the unprecedented step of asking the member commissions to bar amateur Michigan fighters, or those who have recently competed in Michigan.

As safety is left solely in the hands of for-profit promoters. While some responsible, pre-fight screenings are generally minimal or non-existent, there are no tests for AIDS or Hepatitis, fighters under 18 can compete, there are multiple fights in one night, no ringside physician is required, or even an ambulance, and more.

The cesspool of MMA came to a head when on April 6, Felix Elochukwu Nchikwo, a 35-year-old Nigerian living in Hamilton, Ontario on a student visa died following his participation in an unregulated amateur MMA bout in Michigan.

Mike Brudenell from the Detroit Free Press offers eyewitness testimony on how bad it is.

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, wanted to watch a local cage fight firsthand. He picked a Downriver amateur mixed martial arts event several months ago and was appalled at what he saw.

“An absolute disgrace,” said Santana, who Wednesday pushed through a package of bills in the state House of Representatives in Lansing that would regulate amateur MMA fights in Michigan under the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Unarmed Combat Commission.

“A guy with a crappy record fought two bouts on the same night. He came back against an opponent with a 7-1 record and gets the s— knocked out of him and is KO’d. In the main event, a fighter got gouged in the eye and an EMT — there wasn’t a doctor at cage side — has to run to the concession stand to get a couple of brown napkins to clear out the mess.”

Santana, a boxing fan who said he once trained as a kid at the Kronk Gym in Detroit, has been working on the bills since last year.

“Athletes have a right to have a fair and safe environment to compete in,” Santana said. “Fighters show guts when they walk into a ring or cage. We have to make their safety our first priority.

“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to something that just happened. But MMA is America’s fastest-growing sport, and you get young people out there who are young, bulletproof and full of fire and vinegar. With this regulation, we are going to establish some baseline requirements.”

Local boxing and MMA promoter Joseph Donofrio said Nchikwo’s death after losing on a third-round TKO was “a time bomb ready to go off.”

Donofrio has at least two, sometimes four, doctors ringside and one or two ambulances waiting on site.

“Someone had to die in the cage before they enact this regulation,” Donofrio said Wednesday. “I’ve always insured my fighters. If they’d had a doctor there (in Port Huron), the fighter might be alive today.”

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It must be noted that not every amateur MMA promoter in Michigan is irresponsible. Promoter Joseph Donofrio has for some time been advocating for legislation, and issued a statement in support of House Bill 4167.

“Wednesday, April 10, 2013, marked an important day in the Mixed Martial Arts industry with the passage of House Bill 4167 regulating amateur competition in the state.

“For too long, the health and safety of amateur MMA fighters have been needlessly at risk because of the lack of state oversight. Sadly, during this time of unregulated combat, a fighter needlessly died. This bill rightly honors the memory of Felix Pablo Elochukwu by ensuring in the future that amateur fighters will be competing under the safest conditions possible.

“I’ve been honored to work with Representative Harvey Santana and members of the Michigan legislature toward passing this bill in the House. I look forward to its eventual passage in the Senate and its being signed into law by our Governor.”