Athletic Commission Director Confident Combat Sports Will Continue in Oklahoma After March 31

By Tristen Critchfield Mar 21, 2012
Two weeks ago, the future of mixed martial arts -- and all combat sports -- in the state of Oklahoma looked bleak. Today, according to Joe Miller, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission, that prognosis appears to be much brighter.

On March 5, Miller issued a letter to promoters announcing the suspension of all events in Oklahoma after March 31. The potential ban was prompted because the state, which has charged a four percent tax on all pay-per-view events since 2004, including those held outside of Oklahoma, was being threatened with a lawsuit from the UFC to have the tax removed.

“The purpose of this letter is to inform you the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission will not be accepting applications for event permits for events scheduled after March 31, 2012,” it read. “The commission is faced with an out-of-state threat that, if successful, could greatly affect the commission’s ability to provide for the public safety and for the health and safety of the athletes for future events throughout Oklahoma.”

In short, without funding from pay-per-view revenue, the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission wouldn’t be able to survive. In an email to mmavalor.com, Miller said that the state receives approximately $80,000 each year from UFC pay-per-views.

Things have changed since then, however. Miller told Sherdog.com on Wednesday that he has been visiting with state legislature and has received “verbal acknowledgements that they are going to ensure that the commission does not dissolve.”

Miller has proposed a number of options that would allow the commission to continue with business as usual, albeit with some new limitations in terms of the budget.

“There will be a number of cuts. I’ve got about 25 different scenarios of what we can do and still survive,” Miller said. “Some of them require drastic cuts in the way we support the events with personnel. Some of them require some increases for license fees and some charges where we’ve never charged before, such as national MMA IDs. ...The promoter will probably be responsible to pick up the tab on some of the things that we have in the past such as the cost of inspectors and things like that.

“There’s no one ingredient, no one model that we’ve settled on yet. All of that is still to be determined as to how we’re going to do it. It’s just going to depend on what the legislature will allow us to do,” he said.

Although the UFC promised legal action if Oklahoma continued with the pay-per-view law, the Las Vegas-based promotion is now working with the commission to find an answer for its impending financial woes.

“They’re not totally trying to can the commission and make us go away,” Miller said. “They’re being helpful in trying to formulate some solutions to help us build and continue.”

With the aid of the state legislature as well as the UFC, Miller is confident that combat sports events will continue to have a place in Oklahoma after March 31.

“Right now I’m on the verge of rescinding that particular letter and continuing business from the indication I’ve received from some of my state legislators,” he said. “With everybody working together...I think we’ve got (enough) support in place that’s going to ensure that we continue in some shape or fashion. I fully intend not to miss a beat after March 31. It could come in May or June this year that we may have to take another look at it and see where we’re going. Because without adequate funds, there’s absolutely no way we could exist and do what we’re charged to do.”

The UFC has not held an event in the Sooner State since UFC Fight Night 19 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Sept. 16, 2009. The promotion had journeyed to Oklahoma just once before that, for UFC 4 at the Expo Square Pavilion in Tulsa, Okla., in 1994.

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