It has been a long 17 years since the Gracie family decide to put on the most successful infomercial the world has ever seen. For many, the early UFCs were inspiration for new endeavors, business ventures, and opportunities. This is especially true for collegiate wrestlers that did not have a league to go to after their collegiate career was over. It started out as a small show and was billed as a “blood sport.” Senator and later Presidential candidate John McCain called it “human cockfighting.” In some aspects, he may have even been correct. After that first UFC hit Colorado like a brick in the face, cages and bar room MMA events popped up all over the country. It took a lot of work and visionaries like Dana White and the Fertita brothers to bring the sport to where it is today.
The first event that I myself competed in was promoted by a very well known MMA fighter who shall remain nameless. It was an awesome evening for me as I was young, confident, and ready to hop in the cage and test my skills. As incredible an evening as it was for me, I realize now just how shady the entire situation and evening was. There was no sanctioning body, no one checking the hand taping jobs, no one inspecting the gloves that were being used, and most importantly, no medical staff on hand. Back then I did not give a second thought about any of these things because I was young and eager. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that what I was doing was really stupid. As stupid as it may have been, I was one of the many that would show up at a hotel, pizza place, or bar, hop on a scale and go to war. Dumb as it was, people like myself helped pave the way for where the sport was heading. Many of us had dreams of how big this thing called MMA could get, but were never really sure if it would reach that point. Think back to the first UFC event that you watched. Did you ever think that it would be where it is today?
MMA today is a huge global enterprise. Ticket sales are at an all time high and pay-per-view numbers are through the roof. There are more MMA websites than are men drooling over Arianny Celeste. ESPN has a show devoted to MMA and Roger Huerta has even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. MMA apparel and gear is a whole new frontier. It has afforded many people new careers and brought a whole new market to the global economy. It seems as though everyone who can make a dime off of the sport is doing so. The question remains, is this a good thing? Is the growth and explosion just setting the sport up for failure and a trip back to the obscure? It is dangerous territory that we are now in and we as consumers, fans, competitors and people on the inside should tread very carefully before we become the reason behind a downfall.
The sport of MMA and its community of supporters have come a long way in the past two decades but there is still a lot of work to be done. We have not reached our destination, we have actually only begun to fill up the tank to begin the journey. In some states the sport is still illegal. In others it is legal but they have no governing body. Each state that has legalized the sport and has a governing body is allowed to make their own rules and guidelines. This has led to uncertainty and confusion. I will be the first to step up and say that things have to change! Amateur fighters are not required to submit to blood testing. This is dangerous and should be illegal in itself. The risk of being cut by an elbow, a knee, or a glancing blow is way too high to not test every competitor for communicable diseases. There needs to be a nationwide or even worldwide governing body that can institute a standard set of rules and guidelines and enforce them! There should be a group to say who can host and promote MMA events. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry that thinks he can make a buck in this industry are putting up cages and promoting events at the fighters’ expense. This is not a game, there are people’s lives at stake and it is time we started respecting that fact.
The year is 2010 here in Louisville, KY. Things are not a lot different than they were when I first competed in my first MMA event. There is now a governing body (The Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Authority) and pro fighters must adhere to blood testing regulations, there is more organization and that is where the improvements stop for the most part. Amateur fighters still do not have to submit to blood testing, no one checks the tape jobs, no one inspects gloves and you don’t have to be licensed to work as a cut man. You don’t even have to be licensed to be a referee. Promoters put fighters in the cage and risk their lives and limbs with referees who in some cases have no experience and then give the fighters a medal that looks like it came out of a gumball machine. There have to be proving grounds for amateur fighters and I realize this but there needs to be new parameters set. There should be an established feeder system set up to keep these shady promoters from preying on untrained fighters. At some point we as fans and competitors of this sport must realize that we are in the infancy stages of this sport and need to make these changes now before everything implodes around us. This is not bungee jumping. This is not something you do for fun on vacation. This is a serious, legitimate sport with serious, legitimate athletes and we need to start treating it that way.
The sport has come a long way and the sky is the limit as long as WE don’t put a roof on it. Fighters need to recognize that they have the power. Without shady promoters, there will still be fights but without fighters there will be no shady promoters. All of the hard work and dedication that has been put into this sport could be easily undone. We are one tragedy and disaster away from being relegated to underground shows in bars, pizza places, and back alleys like the old days. Make the changes while we have a chance and before it is too late. There is a saying that goes, “Crisis precipitates changes.” Don’t let a death, debilitating injury, or spread of disease be the downfall of our beloved sport. If you are a fan, congressman, promoter, or fighter use some common sense and wake up before MMA gets tapped out for good.
About the author:
Chris “The Buzz-Saw”Bowman is a mixed martial arts competitor, school owner, and judge with over 15 years of combative experience.
He owns and operates Louisville Elite Combat in Louisville, KY. He holds a Yudansha rank in the Japanese art of Bushi Jutsu Ryu and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org