MMA fighting continues in South Carolina after the tragic death of Michael Kirkham, but there's an open question about whether the regulatory bodies in place are going far enough in pre-fight screening. To wit:
South Carolina's MMA regulations aren't the most stringent in the U.S., but they are more thorough than many states, according to Schafer. ISKA has regulated martial arts and combat sports for 24 years, including current Strikeforce MMA events on Showtime and CBS, and events on six continents and in 60 countries. It regulates fights in most states where MMA is approved.
"Compared to all the other states, [South Carolina is] right smack in the middle of what is required," Schafer said. "All their safety measures are very acceptable by the [national] Association of Boxing Commissions compared to most states."
The S.C. Athletic Commission requires that all professional MMA fighters submit an original or certified lab report indicating that the competitor is HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C negative within two weeks of a fight. Also, the fighter must complete an eye exam and have a physical performed by a physician.
Carolina Fight Promotions conducts its own physicals prior to weigh-ins the night before a fight, and there are two trauma surgeons and a plastic surgeon ringside during all bouts.
South Carolina is more strict than most states when it comes to regulations for fighters 35 and older. They are required to submit a CT scan or MRI to the athletic commission 72 hours before being licensed.
Physicals, though not blood tests or eye exams, are required of amateurs, but they use 7-ounce gloves compared to 4-ounce gloves for pros, and can't elbow or knee to the head. Traditional boxing gloves are a minimum of 8 ounces. All MMA competitors wear a mouthpiece and protective groin cup.
Schafer applauds the state for the enforcement of its regulations. "They leave no room but for 100 percent compliance," Schafer said. "You can have all the requirements in the world, but if you don't regulate it, it doesn't matter."
What isn't required in South Carolina but is required of pros in a few states are more in-depth medical tests and procedures. They may include tests to identify steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, an EKG test of the heart, EEG test of the brain, CT scan, MRI, blood clotting test, chest x-ray and test for tuberculosis. Those tests can be expensive, and states requiring some of them include Nevada, New Jersey and California, which host high-revenue productions such as Ultimate Fighting Championship events.
There are also many states that have little or no regulation of MMA events, leaving it up to promoters - who can have motives other than the safety of fighters, including ticket sales - to regulate their own events.
"A regulatory body or commission's first responsibility is to guarantee safety of the competitors and spectators," Schafer said. "The promoter shouldn't be the one making those final decisions. His agenda is different and he looks at it differently."
That is precisely right. No one should be applauded more for the legalization and regulation of MMA than Zuffa, but in the wake of the death of Michael Kirkham, UFC President Dana White laid the blame for the death at the feet of the wrong people. White suggested if promoters don't have the resources to make sure fighters get "all" proper screenings, then they shouldn't be in business. Yet, the promoter of the show where Kirkham died did follow the regulations - all of them and to a T. The responsibility to ensure a sufficient battery of tests are involved in pre-fight screening falls on the commission, not the promoter. Asking the promoter to go further than what the law requires is a gigantic waste of time and getting the priority exactly backwards.
White has to promote the line that the commissions, when it applies to fighter safety, are generally in the right. He'll criticize referees or judges from time to time, but he'll never publicly undermine the idea that commissions are often feeble or enforcing insufficient safety measures. He needs the validation they bring to the sport. But that doesn't mean the rest of us need to accept an argument that is clearly not true. The onus to make sure the sport is properly regulated is by definition a responsibility of the athletic commission. Promoters, generally speaking, will only do what's required of them. No more, no less.
Let's demand more.