Since it’s that time of the year when the struggle to get the sport sanctioned in New York becomes a recurring news item, it makes sense to have a weekly update post. So here it is! This week, an aide in the State Assembly takes advantage of the exploding amateur scene, Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission Executive Director Greg Sirb gives us some perspective on how amateur MMA sanctioning should be done, and two homegrown promoters in New York City don’t like each other.
• Joseph Brady fought at the Cage Wars amateur show in Albany on March 22. Brady is also the legislative director for Assemblyman Peter Abbate. Take a moment to digest the irony there, as for the past few years it’s been the Assembly and the Assembly alone that has been holding up the passage of the law that would lift the ban on pro MMA bouts. Brady lost via decision by the way.
• When it comes to amateur MMA in New York and its lack of regulatory oversight, it’s truly a lawless “wild west” where promoters can do anything they want. There are no uniform standards for medical care, no unified rule set, and because no fighter records are kept, there’s nothing stopping grave mismatches from occurring. To make matters worse, there’s little to no screening of the fighters, which means anyone who wants to get into the cage and throw down can, whether they’re healthy or not.
What does it take to compete as an amateur MMA fighter in Pennsylvania? “A physical, blood work, eye exam, and an experience form that your trainer must fill out,” said Sirb when I interviewed him this week. Sirb has been the Exective Director of the commission there since 1990, and since they began sanctioning MMA since 2009. “We really put a lot of pressure on the trainers and the gym guys to make sure they fill this experience form out – how long has he been in this gym? Have you seen him fight? Have you seen him spar? Is he quality? And they put their signature on that form so they can be able to compete.”
To say that Pennsylvania’s MMA scene is robust would be an understatement. Pennsylvania hosts tons of MMA bouts nearly every weekend. And unlike in most states, fight cards there will usually see a mix of both pro and amateur bouts. Of those amateur competitors, how many are from out of state? “We get a lot out of New York. We get a lot out of Virginia, we get a lot of Ohio. I’d say in any given fight, you’re probably looking at 15 to 20 percent would be from out of state.”
As it stands right now, an amateur MMA competitor injured in New York can get anything between the medical attention of a cageside physician to nothing more than a cab ride to the emergency room – the downside of a law that sets no standards or requirements for amateur MMA promoters. What does a competitor get in Pennsylvania? “The amateur fighter is covered by our insurance, plus the doctor is there to fill out his post-fight results, and he’ll determine what that fighter needs, whether it be a follow-up for his nose, a suspension of some sort, sometimes a follow-up medical exam, maybe another physical or a CT scan or a neural exam.” In addition, fight results are reported directly to the database at www.mixedmartialarts.com, which is itself a useful tool for keeping track of fighters’ records and suspensions. “That database – although it has some kinks – has been a godsend for MMA people.”
Sirb is also a firm believer in the state handling the sanctioning of MMA bouts, as opposed to a third-party sanctioning body doing it. “It’s truly a health and safety issue,” he said. “I think these third-party groups – a lot of them – are in it just for the money. They’ll sanction anything as long as they get their fee.”
What does he think of the situation in New York and amateur MMA there? “I know they’re trying. At least, the commission’s trying. But it’s brutal. They’d have to pass a law to outlaw it. And I just don’t think the legislature – some of the people in New York, people in authority who are waiting to pass that law – realize how dangerous it is. For a state like us and New Jersey, when you get a New York guy, you’ve got to pay attention. That kid could be 5-0 or 0-5, you really don’t know.” He added, “It’s a problem. You really have to put a lot of pressure on your matchmaker, you’ve got to put a lot of pressure on the guy who’s bringing [the fighters] in. Now we’ve been dealing with New York guys for the last couple of years, so we got to know a lot of the gyms, some of the trainers and stuff. But you’ve got to know who is above-board and who isn’t.”
If the New York State Athletic Commission came to Sirb seeking advice on how best to rein in the amateur MMA beast, what would he tell them? “I’d tell them to copy Pennsylvania and New Jersey rules. That’s what I’d tell them.”
• Everyone knows there are struggles fighters must go through to reach their goals, but what’s often overlooked are those battles waged by promoters. And in the New York City, they are battling. Fightland’s got the “he said/he said”, but the gist of it is this: Peter Storm has been running his Underground Combat League events in the Five Boroughs for ten years. Eugene Perez, meanwhile, has been promoting combat sports shows around the state for a few years, and in February held a sizeable amateur MMA show called the Aggressive Combat Championship in a high school gymnasium in the Bronx. Since ACC operates in pretty much the same area – therefore tapping into the same fighter camps and ticket buyers – there is of course static. Truly, the ACC and the UCL offer two very different products. One is where you’d go to cheer on your friend, one is where you’d go to get splattered with blood, and both have their charms. Oh well. Here are some fights from both organizations for you to check out.
Underground Combat League
Aggressive Combat Championship