Mullin, for­mer fighter, pushes to reg­u­late MMA

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - METRO | STATE - BY JUSTIN WINGERTER Staff Writer jwingerter@ok­la­

For­mer Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity wrestler Randy Cou­ture pulled no punches as he painted a bleak pic­ture of the busi­ness prac­tices be­hind mixed mar­tial arts Thurs­day while tes­ti­fy­ing on Capi­tol Hill in fa­vor of a bill in­tro­duced by U.S. Rep. Mark­wayne Mullin.

“Co­er­cive con­trac­tual prac­tices” have crip­pled the sport, he said, in­clud­ing clauses “that pre­vent cham­pi­ons from ever be­com­ing freely mar­ketable” and “se­cret dis­cre­tionary pay­ments” that keep ath­letes “sub­servient and silent.”

As leagues like Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pion profit ex­or­bi­tantly, “mid-tier and lower-tier fight­ers are strug­gling. They can’t fight enough times in a year to make a liv­ing,” Cou­ture said.

The fighter spoke to the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Dig­i­tal Com­merce and Consumer Pro­tec­tion as it con­sid­ers House Resolution 44. The bill is the lat­est ef­fort by Mullin, a for­mer mixed mar­tial arts fighter with a 3-0 record in the Xtreme Fight­ing League, to ex­tend box­ing reg­u­la­tions to MMA.

“There is a rea­son why Congress stepped up and kept peo­ple like Don King from ma­nip­u­lat­ing fight­ers in the box­ing world,” Mullin, R-Westville, said. “If it was good enough for box­ing, then it should be good enough for other com­bat sports, such as MMA.”

Marc Rat­ner op­poses those ef­forts. He is UFC’s vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment and reg­u­la­tory af­fairs.

The “con­flicts, crony­ism and cor­rup­tion” that led to box­ing re­forms do not ex­ist in MMA, he said. The sport once de­rided by Sen. John McCain as “hu­man cock­fight­ing” has be­come re­spected due to ex­ist­ing state reg­u­la­tions and UFC’s in­ge­nu­ity, he told House mem­bers.

“A very small mi­nor­ity of fight­ers have urged this com­mit­tee to en­act leg­is­la­tion be­cause of some per­ceived un­fair­ness. The con­trary is true,” Rat­ner tes­ti­fied. “The UFC is the undis­puted leader in how it sup­ports ath­letes and pro­motes ath­lete health and per­for­mance.”

Rat­ner said box­ing and MMA “are en­tirely dif­fer­ent” and should not be reg­u­lated sim­i­larly. Be­cause sports re­porters rank UFC fight­ers, rank­ings drive “merit-based com­pet­i­tive match­mak­ing de­ci­sions,” ac­cord­ing to Rat­ner.

On this point, he and Mullin ver­bally sparred for sev­eral min­utes.

“Do they serve at the will of the UFC?” Mullin asked, re­fer­ring to the com­mis­sion of sports writ­ers.

“No, they’re in­de­pen­dent,” Rat­ner re­sponded.

“They serve at the will of the UFC. UFC re­serves the right to re­move any­body off that com­mis­sion that they choose,” Mullin re­torted. When Rat­ner said he could not speak to that be­cause it’s not his area of ex­per­tise, Mullin told him, “It’s true. The an­swer to that is: true.”

Mullin and Cou­ture say the UFC and other MMA pro­mot­ers create so-called cham­pi­onship fights ar­bi­trar­ily and avoid ac­cu­rate rank­ings, dam­ag­ing MMA’s credibility. Rat­ner de­fended the prac­tice, say­ing, “We put on the fights that fans want to see.”

In 2000, Congress passed the Muham­mad Ali Box­ing Re­form Act after con­clud­ing states were not prop­erly pro­tect­ing box­ers phys­i­cally or fi­nan­cially or en­sur­ing the in­tegrity of the sport. Be­cause box­ing is granted a per­ma­nent re­prieve from state laws that pro­hib­ited vi­o­lence, the gov­ern­ment should in­stead reg­u­late the sport more strin­gently, Congress rea­soned.

The Ali Act re­quires rat­ings cri­te­ria be ob­jec­tive and spelled out, that pro­mot­ers give state com­mis­sions copies of all agree­ments and dis­close how much money they, the pro­mot­ers, are mak­ing from fights.

Mullin’s leg­is­la­tion, HR 44, would ex­pand those re­forms to mixed mar­tial arts. It has 53 co-spon­sors — 28 Repub­li­cans and 25 Democrats — in­clud­ing two fel­low Ok­la­homans: Reps. Tom Cole and Frank Lu­cas.

“We’ve got an­other year to get this done,” Mullin said in an in­ter­view after the hear­ing, call­ing the bill’s odds of pas­sage “pretty good.”

The Ali Act is not with­out its crit­ics, many of whom con­sider it to be well-mean­ing but ren­dered in­ef­fec­tive by loop­holes. Some re­quire­ments are ig­nored while oth­ers are de­pen­dent on piece­meal state reg­u­la­tory struc­tures, crit­ics say.

“The Ali Act has been very hard to en­force,” said Greg Sirb, a long­time ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Penn­syl­va­nia State Athletic Com­mis­sion and an ar­chi­tect of the Ali Act.

The com­mit­tee also heard from Dr. Kris­ten Dams-O’Con­nor, a brain in­jury re­searcher. She took no po­si­tions on the leg­is­la­tion but warned about the dev­as­tat­ing health ef­fects of MMA knock­outs, es­pe­cially in chil­dren.

“In MMA, there is a lot of com­pe­ti­tion that in­volves tech­nique and skill that has noth­ing to do with in­cur­ring head trauma,” she said. “A lot of the sport would be pre­served, even if knock­outs be­came no longer an ac­cept­able com­po­nent of the sport.”


Mickey Gail, left, fights Randy Brown of Ja­maica, dur­ing a mid­dleweight mixed mar­tial arts bout at UFC 217 on Satur­day in New York. Brown won the fight.

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