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Improving the quality of commission regulation at MMA events

By Zach Arnold | July 2, 2010

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How do cash-strapped, smaller athletic commissions improve safety standards to protect MMA fighters?

That’s the first question that comes to mind after this discussion by Jordan Breen on the topic of Michael Kirkham’s death in South Carolina.

(Text of passage at the end of this post.)

We’ve seen the issues and controversies involving California and Nevada. We know that Larry Hazzard was forced out in New Jersey.

The big issue is money. In Nevada, we know that it’s casino money that flows. In California, there’s a heavy fan base to financially support regulation. In New Jersey, it’s more or less a local grassroots level supporting the business as opposed to the casinos. But what do you do about a state like South Carolina that is poor? Heck, we have cities across the States cancelling 4th of July fireworks celebrations. I realize to the rest of the world that comes off as “whatever,” but when cities are considering all sorts of cutbacks of $25,000 here, $10,000 there, how can states that are insolvent justify the costs of doing the right kind of job for regulating events?

One part to the equation is whether or not the people regulating the events actually care about their job, are actually paying attention to what’s going on, and are willing to take the time to go over all the details.

Now, onto the radio show passage about this topic…

JORDAN BREEN: “There was a fighter down in South Carolina by the name of Michael Kirkham, a 30-year old who died this past weekend following his pro MMA debut. A lot of people with different kinds of comments, just you know, do you have a general thought and these sorts of things. And, to me, I think it’s timely that on the same sort of moment where the New York Assembly are stripping away the voting of MMA regulation in New York from its agenda that we have a death in Mixed Martial Arts. I find it so sad and backwards that when someone dies in Mixed Martial Arts… I do think it’s fortunate that people are intelligent enough to realize now that a death in the sport is not the end of the sport. Even when Sam Vasquez passed away a few years ago, people didn’t treat it as though as it was a death knell, which is crazy considering if it had happened in 2003, people would have overreacted as though it was the complete end of the sport.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “I’d even say closer than that, I’d say 2005.”

JORDAN BREEN: “Yeah, I mean, people… we’ve definitely come a long way when most people, whether consciously or not, accept that a death isn’t going to sink the sport. Nonetheless, it’s not something that rolls away like water off a duck’s back. What it should represent is the need for stronger, more stringent regulation. We had a major, major fight that we’re going to finally going to get in August, it’s taken like a year to have Thiago Alves fight Jon Fitch but a large part of that is that irregularities were found in Thiago Alves’ brain scan and a lot of fighters said, screw this, I don’t want to fight in New Jersey, this is stupid, it’s too many medical tests, take too long, too many second opinions. And… now we see why that’s a virtue and why Nick Lembo and those guys are in the clear with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. This is why these things going on.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Not to being lame, but if you have brain irregularities, you probably should get that looked at.”

JORDAN BREEN: “Yeah, so it’s a reminder that even as we continue to regulate the sport, that’s not the end. The sport needs regulation in every state and looking at something like this, people in New York should realize that you know there are MMA cards going down all the times in New York on reservations and in local gyms with underground smokers and to turn a blind eye to it and not realize that these are people that need to protected and that proper government intrusions should be in place to ensure that if this is going to happen, it’s going to happen safely and soundly. It’s a bit irresponsible and stupid. And likewise we shouldn’t necessarily assume that any place that regulates MMA is just, oh, great… because South Carolina athletic commission, I can’t speak to the quality of the work that they do, but there’s a reason that commissions like New Jersey and Nevada and California, because of their fantastic resources, are able to be a bit more exacting and stringent and so on and so forth and even if you know local promoters in South Carolina can’t exactly fork over the kind of insurance and guys that are fighting locally can’t necessarily pay for the kind of testing there, it is still important that these athletic commissions take a good hard look and realize just because you’re a smaller local commission doesn’t mean that horrible things can’t happen under your auspices and in fact, I mean, they are perhaps more likely to happen. I mean when you look at boxing and stuff like that, I mean yeah sometimes boxers die in high-profile fights in Nevada, definitely happens. But when you look at where boxers tend to die, you get guys fighting in bummy shows in Thailand and then they die of brain swelling or they fight you know in Alabama without an athletic commission. The guys who slip through the cracks tend to be the guys who end up passing away. It’s not an equal playing field and just, it could happen anywhere. It could happen anywhere but it’s always more likely to happen when you’re dealing with local level guys, weekend warriors, who happen to be fighting in states that don’t exactly, you know, take their roles I don’t want to say super-seriously, but don’t necessarily view themselves as you know protecting, being a serious and integral of the sport the way that the commissions in California and Nevada and New Jersey do. And that’s unfortunate. Hopefully this is a moment where the South Carolina athletic commission, other commissions in the Atlantic area, and really all over the world can take a good, hard look and say, you know maybe we need to beef up and become a bit more stringent and that doesn’t mean that you have to put guys through an endless battery of tests. That just means being more diligent with things like brain scans and you know making sure that guys’ hearts beat correctly. Things that simply often get overlooked routinely. I mean, TJ, you always make light of what it takes to get licensed as a fighter in Minnesota. Would you be shocked if next week a guy at a brutal fight night card ended up passing away?”


JORDAN BREEN: “Exactly.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “He paid for his license and that’s all the qualifications you need.”

JORDAN BREEN: “Exactly. And that’s horrifying considering Minnesota’s a state where tons of MMA happens every single weekend.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “We are the 15th largest market in the country as far as broadcasts and television and radio and whatnot. I mean, it’s not like we’re a backwoods city by any means in Minneapolis.”

JORDAN BREEN: “Exactly, so hopefully this is a situation where rather than the polarized reaction, which is already happening. I mean there are op-eds going on in Poland, in Germany, in local newspapers already saying that MMA is horrible and is a death sport and that Mike Kirkham’s death is indicative than that. What’s more important is that people who are sane, logical, and rational and especially hopefully those people reside within government bodies and athletic commissions and within the sport realize that more stringent licensing processes and medical processes are necessarily to make MMA a safe sport and that has nothing to do with MMA. I mean, that goes for MMA, for boxing, for kickboxing, for anything at this point in time.”

Topics: Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 4 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

4 Responses to “Improving the quality of commission regulation at MMA events”

  1. shootor says:

    i’m sick of hearing about regulation.

    free men should do as the like so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. if there is a mutual agreement to fight under certain rules, then they should be allowed to do that. whatever happens to them, happens to them. it was their choice as free men. it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with any civil servants imposing their will on others.

    • Chuck says:

      Right, so when a fighter dies in the ring, because maybe the referee was incompetent in his/her job, or possibly because there might be signs of a brain aneurysm, and the family of the fallen tries to sue, the promoter can then skip town with the money he/she made and the family of the fallen will not get a penny for funeral or whatever costs. Completely stupid and asinine post. No offense, but it really was on your part man.

      Look, I do agree with you that grown-ass men and women should be able to do whatever they want in their lives, but there has to be regulation in sports and fighting. I don’t like the idea of “saving someone from themselves'” but it has to happen.

      So, going by your logic, then we should go by the rules and laws of the old west circa 1860’s-about 1920-ish and allow gunslingers to have open one-on-one shootouts with each other on the streets, right? Hey, they are grown adults and they agreed to the rules of the duel, so they should do whatever they want!

  2. […] the Michael Kirkham death occurred, Jordan Breen went on his radio show and elaborated on why it’s a good idea to have regulation of combat sports in all American […]


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