West Virginia MMA law restricting the sport

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Even though state lawmakers voted to legalize mixed martial arts fighting in West Virginia during the regular session earlier this year, fight promoters say the burdensome rules are restricting the sport’s growth.

Current law prohibits fights from happening in venues with seating capacities smaller than 2,500.

On Wednesday, an interim committee discussed the rules and proposed rules that will be taken up during the regular session next month.

Butch Hiles, a professional mixed martial artist who owns Butch Hiles Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA Gym in Charleston, spoke to the committee about how rules affect the industry.

He says because the sport is just getting underway in West Virginia, most promoters are small and don’t have the money to adhere to all the regulations.

“These rules make it very hard for a small-time promoter,” Hiles said.  “If you’re looking for a venue with 2,500 people, there’s not a lot.  Even in Charleston, there’s only the Civic Center.”

The official first state-sanctioned fight is set for Jan. 7 at the Williamson Field House.  Hiles says the venue seats about 6,000.  However, he says it’s hard for many promoters to secure large arenas, gyms or halls.

“The majority of people aren’t going to have the money to rent those kind of venues,” Hiles said.  “So from the get go they’re in trouble.”

Renting venues as large as the Civic Center can cost as much as $50,000 Hiles said.

During Wednesday’s interim committee meeting, lawmakers asked Hiles what rules should govern the sport.  Possible rules include allowing fights only in cages instead of rings, prohibiting amateur fights, mandating that each fight have two TV screens for fans and requiring insurance policies of up to $30,000.

Hiles said each rule puts an unnecessary burden on promoters who are trying to get the sport going in West Virginia.  He says surrounding states are much more lenient on the sport.

“The point why we passed it was to compete with other states, and unfortunately we can’t because the rules are too hard,” Hiles said.  “There not the same rules in any other state at all.”

Hiles says if regulations are scaled back, the sport could flourish in West Virginia.  Lawmakers plan to consider rule changes during the upcoming regular session.

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