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Why it should be OK for states like South Carolina to not sanction MMA

By Zach Arnold | August 15, 2012

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On the heels of another death of an MMA fighter in South Carolina this past weekend, the lines in the sand were already (and predictably) drawn between the anti-MMA and pro-MMA forces.

Unlike the situation involving Michael Kirkham, the death of Tyrone Mims appears on the surface to be a situation that no one was likely going to be able to stop… if the adequate medical checks were actually performed before the fight.

As Eddie Goldman noted around the time of Michael Kirkham’s death, the situation for medical checks in South Carolina was/is a mixed bag.

“If you go to the web site of the Association of Boxing Commissions which the South Carolina commission is part of, they linked to the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians which list the medical requirements for fighters in there, they’re identical for boxing and MMA and this is supposed to be updated. For the state of South Carolina, an EKG which is for your heart – not required. EEG for your brain, not required. They do require a dilated eye exam, but the dilatation can be a problem for the eyes but that’s another issue. CT scan, not required. MRI, not required. You are required to have something called a neurological exam by a neurologist, I guess you’re asked what day of the week it is or something.”

The Charleston Post and Courier has a new op-ed published about the death of Tyrone Mims and whether or not MMA should be sanctioned in the state of South Carolina. They use the ‘ol ‘human cockfighting’ John McCain line, which is unfortunately to be expected. Given the track record of recent activity in South Carolina, it’s understandable why the paper reacted the way it has.

When 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 states.

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 think, as the years go by and the evidence mounts, there is a case to be made that regulating combat sports in all 50 states is not a great idea… or, at least, not an idea that is conducive to providing the best overall national atmosphere for safety & quality of regulation of combat sports in the U.S.

In the rush for MMA boosters and promoters like the UFC to gain momentum in the business & political worlds to push back against critics, there has been an effort to get MMA legislated in every state. The problem, of course, is that not every state has the resources nor the desire to do regulation properly and correctly. In many cases, state athletic commissions are simply agencies under a bureaucratic umbrella where the bottom line is about dollars and cents, not MRIs and CT scans. You have states where there’s a climate to allow for testosterone usage in order to attract more shows and states where you have nepotism running rampant in business dealings. The idea that regulation in all 50 U.S. states would help produce a safer climate simply hasn’t panned out.

Take South Carolina for example. Their last meeting was on August 9th, right before this accident with Tyrone Mims occurred. Their next meeting isn’t until October 4th, which by then most media focus will be completely vaporized on the story. The 9-person athletic commission is simply a board under the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation bureau. 8 of the 9 seats are currently filled.

The board members:

William O Boyte III
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: General Public
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2008
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2012
City, State: Lexington, SC
District: Dist 2

Steven K. Dean, O.D.
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: General Public
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2008
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2012
City, State: Sumter, SC
District: Dist 6

Anthony Quinn Eubanks
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: N/A
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2010
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2014
City, State: Pendleton, SC
District: Dist 3

Clyde M. Jones
Board Position: Vice Chair
Statutory Designation: N/A
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2010
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2014
City, State: Camden, SC
District: Dist 5

William Edward Lawson
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: N/A
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2010
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2014
City, State: Myrtle Beach, SC
District: Dist 1

James W. Phillips , III, M.D.
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: Physician
Term Appoint Date: 05/19/2011
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2015
City, State: Columbia, SC
District: N/A

Pamela Shealy
Board Position: Member
Statutory Designation: N/A
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2008
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2012
City, State: Columbia, SC
District: At Large

Alan Wells
Board Position: Chair
Statutory Designation: N/A
Term Appoint Date: 06/30/2008
Term Expire Date: 06/30/2012
City, State: Greenville, SC
District: Dist 4

One look at the South Carolina event calendar tells you everything you need to know about activity for combat sports in the states. outside of a few wrestling shows and an occasional MMA event, there’s just not a lot of activity. That means the state is less likely to allocate taxpayer resources and it also means less stringent medical testing requirements because of how much it costs for promoters who pay the bills.

It’s OK to admit that South Carolina doesn’t have the resources to properly regulate a violent combat sport. Rather than continue to stay in a cocoon in which everyone parrots the party line that MMA is safer than other combat sports, we should just admit that MMA is as dangerous as other combat sports and be more serious about improving quality regulation in markets where there is the most MMA activity. In the markets where there is little or no MMA activity, there shouldn’t be regulation.

I already can hear the counter-argument to this. If there’s no regulation, then there will be underground activity. Well, if you have a regulatory climate that isn’t that much more of a step up in terms of promoting safety than an unregulated climate, then what’s the point of putting on a facade of bean counters from a state governmental agency who can’t get the job done right?

Why fans should care about the process & procedures of regulation

When state regulation fails, we hear the cries for Federal regulation. Teddy Atlas talks all the time about a Federal commission to oversee combat sports. Whether he’s on the right track or wrong track, the bottom line is that failures on the state level feed into the argument for Federal oversight.

To which I say that part of the problem with state regulation could simply be solved by having regulation in fewer states and that regulation should be focused on the states with the most activity. Believe me, there are already enough problems in the bigger markets like California, Nevada, and Texas. Adding on more problems from smaller state athletic commissions that don’t have the tools to get the job done just exacerbates the problem and encourages commission shopping by fighters & promoters.

It’s why I’m passionate about the mess right now in California. While Texas can’t seem to procure a urine drug testing sample without some sort of drama and Nevada can’t seem to stop themselves from rubber stamping hall passes for testosterone usage, California is a state that has double the event activity of anywhere else in America and, yet, finds itself in a hole because they are subservient to their political masters at the Department of Consumer Affairs who are interested in rewarding their political buddies and watching over cash in the boxer pension & neurological funds rather than actually giving a damn about fighter safety. If they gave a damn about fighter safety, they wouldn’t be pushing a 3-inspector-per-show policy and they wouldn’t be telling inspectors to sign coercive contracts of adhesion a.k.a. Volunteer Service Agreements in order to manipulate the political disconnect that already exists on the ground between the bean counters and the inspectors out in the field of duty.

California’s buffoonery on the national stage has made that state’s athletic commission into a national punchline. They should take a close look at what’s going on in South Carolina and other states with athletic commissions that aren’t properly backed by resources to see what can and what will happen. It’s a sobering thought.

Combat sports aren’t for everyone — and neither is regulation in states that can’t afford nor have the desire to do the job right in the first place. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

13 Responses to “Why it should be OK for states like South Carolina to not sanction MMA”

  1. Chris says:

    Thank you Zach.

  2. Jim says:

    I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life in South Carolina and the athletic commission t here is a joke. What’s sad is that it actually used to be worse and would basically rubber stamp any fight. During the late 80’s/early 90’s it was a haven for fighters and promoters that couldn’t get licensed in other states for a variety of reasons. After a death in a boxing match in which the deceased fighter shoudlnt have been cleared to fight (and IIRC a death in a ‘ToughMan’ competition) there were some superficial changes made. I agree completely with your reasoning–in theory I’d like to have pro boxing and MMA in the Palmetto State but unless the state is going to take oversight seriously the downside greatly outweighs the upside.

  3. Robert Poole says:

    Personally I believe all 50 states need to regulate Boxing and MMA with unified rules and regulations to keep everyone safe. If there is a failure (like certain rules are causing more injuries/deaths) in that setup, a change can be made that can correct the situation across the board. But every state needs regulation. There’s a ton of shady bums willing to promote shows with little to no medical supervision because they only care about a quick buck. Forcing regulation makes them have to comply to have a promoter’s license.

  4. MMA Genius says:

    It is no business of the government and the civil servants that comprise it what grown-ups do to themselves.

    Guess what, if you make a living getting struck in the head and your vital organs, you are an idiot. We know this, or we should. That’s their choice. People have a right to be idiots so long as they’re not directly harming someone else. In this case, it’s two consential adults beating and cranking on each other.

    I’m so sick of this nanny state BS. You can be against MMA without trying to use government and it’s never ending crusade against individual liberty. It’s okay to dislike MMA. It is disgusting! MMA supporters can’t even argue this point. It’s just that some of us enjoy it, we can handle it, it appeals to the worst in us. Just stop with the anti-liberty campaign. Because when you invest so much power in government you get corrupt civil servants that can bend our laws to fit the desires of whatever top paying big business, big labor, or big religion wants. So don’t give them the power in the first place!

    /rant over
    …for now.

  5. MMA Genius says:

    There shouldn’t be any athletic commissions. First, as I mentioned before, it’s none of government’s business. They should be doing things like building roads, delivering the mail, things of that nature. The idea of protecting people from themselves is a DANGEROUS idea that can be carried to whatever extremes they want.

    Shady bums? I guess these carnival barkers are forcing those poor saps to get in the ring/cafe to attack each other. It’s not like those local fighters are looking for money, perceived glory, or the visceral enjoyment of attacking someone.

    Has history not taught us anything? As though athletic commissions give one itoa about anybody. Commissioners care about commissioners.

    Personally, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s business what consenting adults do. Whatever happened to the idea of individualism and personal responsibility?

    • Rich says:

      I agree with MMA Genius. As cold and harsh as it sounds on the surface, people take risks all the time and bad shit sometimes happens. Boys will be boys, as they say.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      So if a fighter got into an MMA ring and ended up a bloody pulp, only to turn out to have had AIDS and basically sprayed the entire ringside area, you’re OK with that because everyone in the area was a “consenting adult”?

      The entire basis of combat sports worldwide is based around regulation. How do you then regulate the difference between two people in a bar fight and two people in a MMA fight in a bar legally in this country? The presence of a proper ring? The bar owner/promoter’s willingness to hire competent referees and acknowledge generally accepted round lengths?

      • Chuck says:

        Speaking of a crippling disease getting spread around via blood in a ring with no one knowing……remember the Hepatitis C scare with the Undertaker years ago? When Bob Orton Jr. (who has Hep C) did a blade job, and no one told Taker he had Hep C? Good times!

        Anyway, yeah we need regulation. Laissez-faire can only go so far. And yeah, unfortunately, we need to keep grown men in check when it comes to beating each other up. I’m a firm believer that if a fighter passes all of his/her medical tests then he/she should be allowed to fight, regardless if that fighter has a 5-25 or whatever record. Hey, journeymen can make things fun! But there definitely needs to be rules, regulations, etc. Whether the regulation protects a fighter’s health, or protecting a fighter from getting screwed by a crooked manager or promoter. Preferably both, of course, but you get my point.

        Zach, I was very shocked at first when you said that maybe South Carolina shouldn’t regulate mma, but your reasoning is very sound.

  6. Alan Conceicao says:

    There’s always caveats with MMA deaths, it seems. “Well, this doesn’t really count against MMA because the regulations were weak/not in place.” This fight *WAS* a regulated MMA bout under a commission state belonging to the ABC. When we all talked about MMA becoming “regulated”, this is what we were talking about, whether you realized it then or not. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. How many years now has Teddy Atlas harped on and on and on about how various states had weak commissions that took little care to do much in fighter safety?

    The easy solution to suggest is to demand MRIs for every fighter. The problem is that MRIs not covered by health insurance can easily cost a couple grand. When you talk about licensing club fighters making $100/round (or nothing as amateurs), it is economically non-viable and kills the little promoters and fighters. CTs aren’t as accurate a study (and subject people to radiation) and still cost several hundred bucks. The core issue is that at the bottom of the ladder, there is no money to make these things happen. But people don’t want to hear that.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      There is still a huge difference between a MMA or Boxing related death in SC…. And lets say Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, and a few other of those stronger commissioned states.

      It is not a coincidence that deaths almost never happen in the better commissioned states.

      • Tomer says:

        On the other hand, the deaths of Leavander Johnson and (even more so) Beethaeven Scottland were pretty horrific beatings that should have been stopped rounds earlier (and I believe Max Kellerman even was calling for the Scottland fight to be stopped throughout the fight as it was clear that he was outmatched and taking a brutal beating) and they happened in ostensible stronger commission (Nevada and New York, respectively). New York, New Jersey and the other commissions generally have better medical care in place (and tend to avoid such situations), but inept refereeing still happens to be a problem (particularly since bad referees are virtually never banned or otherwise long-term penalized for their incompetence).

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        A huge difference: 45, always the expert. When was the last boxing death in SC? TX?

  7. RST says:

    “Why it should be OK for states like South Carolina to not sanction MMA”

    Because its not okay to FORCE other people to do what YOU want to do?

    I dont know, maybe thats old fashioned of me.


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