Last Saturday, an amateur MMA event in Flint, Michigan saw a "riot" break out as people from the audience stormed the cage and punches were thrown. It's just the latest in a string of dangerous situations taking place at amateur events in the state.
Here's the video:
As a Michigan resident, this is something I care about deeply.
Promoters will kick and scream when the idea of regulating amateur MMA in the state is brought up. Often they cite that the lack of ease with which to put on a show will lead to fighters being forced to either drive out of state or turn professional too early because no one is presenting amateur bouts under increased regulation.
But there are ways to regulate and license events in ways that simply ensure promoters operate their shows safely in accordance within the established guidelines. If a promoter meets the fighter safety requirements, has proper security and has proper medical staff ringside, then they can operate with a state issued license. If they fail to operate safely, they lose their license and their right to promote events.
The funny thing is, Greg Ahrens was involved with putting on the show that saw the riot take place. Ahrens has been one of the leading voices in Michigan pushing for amateur regulation. An article on MLive.com about the situation quoted him:
"I thought about putting out a press release saying someone died at one of my shows, but we weren't sure who it was," Greg Ahrens said. "So, when the state showed up, I would say ‘Yeah, the guy died, but since you don't require us to keep any paperwork, we don't know who it was, and his guys just hauled him out of there.'
"Think that would get some politicians' attention?"
"Young people are going to be put at risk," without regulation, Ahrens said. "And it becomes a matter of not if, but when, somebody will get killed."
I've never attended one of Ahren's shows so I can't comment too much on how they are run, but I've heard decent things. And there is a possibility of a brawl like we saw in the video happening at any event really.
But it is a moment like this that can provide the motivation to get things moving in the right direction to handle the issues present throughout all these promotions.
I've been to local amateur events where I've seen:
- Fighters showing up to the "arena" with their fists already taped. What is to prevent someone from loading their wraps for a little advantage?
- The only medical staff present being a man described as a local "diet doctor."
- Teenagers who brag about not really training anywhere being given fights against experienced fighters out of legitimate camps.
- Events run by local gyms where they intentionally book mismatches that favor their fighters so that the event works as an advertisement for their gym.
- I've seen those same promoters who are also local gym owners stand fights up when a fighter they train has been mounted and is getting pounded on. I asked one such promoter to explain the stand-up and she explained that the fighter on bottom's mouthpiece was about to come out.
- I've seen a "security team" which consisted of whichever fighters weren't in the bout taking place at the time.
- There are some local promotions which basically book their fight cards based on requests for fights on their facebook page. Throwing together thirty fight cards with little idea of the quality of the fighters involved.
- My former trainer has a professional record, having fought at least three fighters who spent time in the UFC, yet I've seen him compete with some regularity on local amateur shows. Just more of the danger in careless matchmaking.
These are the kinds of issues that really demand oversight in amateur MMA. It's easy to get up in arms over a brawl with the crowd jumping over the cage. Everyone can see that and it causes an easy emotional reaction. But it's the stuff that doesn't get talked about that happens every week in the state that is the concern.
Plenty of these events are safe, but enough of them aren't that it's simply worth the extra cost to ensure the long term viability of the sport. A few deaths at poorly run amateur events and we'll find ammy event made illegal altogether.