Starting ’Em Young

By Jeff Sherwood Aug 28, 2012

HANFORD, Calif. -- In a day and age in which youth sports has become a global business behind Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, the American Youth Soccer Association and many other prevalent organizations, can we expect to see similar brands develop in mixed martial arts?

The California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization offers such a program: CAMO Juniors/Pankration. The Selma Enterprise took notice of the 559 Fights promotion’s recent matchup between Jace Luchau, 11, and Austin Terry, 12. Not all greeted the idea with open arms.

“Some parents are questioning football, with all its injuries, concussions,” one post read. “Nope. Football just isn’t brutal enough for this wonderful family. It’s amazing how some parents treat their kids no better than, oh, pitbulls. But then animals have a better lobbyist.”

That may sound harsh, but we all know there are still people out there that feel the same way about MMA, in general. It figures to be a long and bumpy road to acceptance for youth MMA. You can find the rules and regulations that are in place here: Those related to youth can be found in Chapter 2. A few of the rules:

• Competitors must be over 8 years old
• Contestants under the age of 18 must wear headgear
• Any swelling or bleeding will result in the fight being stopped
• Shin guards are optional
• Opponents under the age of 18 shall not have more than a 10-pound difference or two years in age difference
• CAMO may, at its discretion, authorize alternate rules or provisions for Pankration from time to time, so long as the safety and welfare of the contestants and public is not jeopardized

After watching the fight between Luchau and Terry, it became apparent that the rules needed to be tweaked if this venture is going to be successful. Still, it is a start. We often see the young athletes of the world growing up in their favorite sports, honing their skills in an attempt to become the next Derek Jeter, Lebron James or Tony Romo. Why would we not want to afford others, like Luchau and Terry, the chance to become the next Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones?

There were two junior bouts in California on Aug. 18. They took place roughly three hours apart, the aforementioned one in Hanford and the other in Los Angeles. A match between the son of Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Antonio McKee and Cesar Grijalva unfolded in Los Angeles. Luchau earned a third-round stoppage; McKee won a unanimous decision.

Afterward, I made a few phone calls to gauge opinion and solicit comments from those involved. J.T. Steele, a CAMO representative, was the first person with whom I spoke. We talked about rules and regulations, and he was open to suggestion. He admitted the venture was a work in progress and realizes some rules need to be adjusted in order for it to be successful.

I then contacted McKee to ask him how he felt about his son’s experience. He brought up many of the same concerns I have regarding strikes, chokes, headgear and other rules. He made one point I found particularly profound, claiming the regulations in place are “creating bad habits. There are no head strikes, even though they have headgear on, so fighters keep their hands down. That’s not a good habit to pick up.”

Finally, I touched base with Jeremy Luchau, matchmaker and promoter for 559 Fights and the father of Jace Luchau.

“I think with the growth of MMA and its appeal to the younger generations, not only will more kids start to train, but [they will] also compete, just like our youth has done with football, basketball and baseball,” he said. “It took time in the early years of our sport to develop a widely accepted set of rules and regulations, and I think with youth MMA in its infancy it will take some time to work all the kinks out.”

In the long run, I think the junior division will be good for the sport. Now, do not get me wrong. I have no interest in seeing two 11-year-olds duke it out like Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale. However, athletes in all sports deserve an avenue through which to improve and live out their dreams. Regardless of where youth MMA goes in the future, it needs to be heavily monitored and strongly regulated.

“I think at the forefront of everyone's mind is safety for the youth fighters, and I believe that is a good thing,” Luchau said. “I believe CAMO is moving in the right direction to tweak and adjust some of their rules, and overall this will be as safe if not safer than many other youth sports.”


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