MMA Vote Takes Place Today in California

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 – An almost five-year battle to sanction mixed martial arts in California could come one enormous step closer to ending Tuesday, as the state’s Athletic Commission (CSAC) is expected to pass a new set of rules and regulations that may perhaps net legal MMA fights in the state by June.

The busiest boxing state in the country with an average of 130 events per year, California has long been a producer of mixed martial artists and played host to numerous promotions on sovereign Native American land.

Red tape and a disinterested administration in Sacramento caused previous regulation efforts to fall short.

In April 2000 the CSAC, then chaired by Rob Lynch, voted unanimously in favor of regulations that later became the foundation for the Unified Rules now used by New Jersey, Nevada and other MMA-sanctioning bodies throughout North America.

When the legislation was sent to Sacramento for review, however, it was determined that the sport fell outside the jurisdiction of the CSAC, and therefore the voted-upon MMA regulations were rendered toothless.

After Arnold Schwarzenegger took over the governorship from Gray Davis in the summer of 2003, a new movement was undertaken to gain sanctioning in the Golden State. Late last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed legislation giving the CSAC powers to control MMA in the state.

The process continued in November 2004 when the CSAC met in Irvine, Calif. to discuss an updated set of rules that would replace the defunct standard from 2000. January 27 was the day in which the vote was scheduled, but only three of the commission’s seven members could attend, not enough for a quorum, forcing a four-week delay in the vote.

Amongst MMA circles, Tuesday is considered “V-Day.”

“There’s a lot of people really pushing for this to go through,” CSAC Acting Executive Officer Dean Lohuis told Sherdog.com yesterday. “I’m very optimistic.”

If four of the seven commissioners (Dr. Gary Gitnick and Gene Massey will not attend) vote to adopt the new rules, there must be a 30-day period in which the Office of Administrative Law looks over the legislation to make sure it meets state requirements. That will be followed by yet another step before the regulations become law.

Tuesday’s meeting in Los Angeles won’t be a simple up or down vote. Before the commission can get about the business of moving forward, it will need to hear from anyone who wishes to comment.

Promoters from around the globe, including Dream Stage Entertainment (PRIDE) and Zuffa (UFC) are expected to speak. At the last CSAC hearing, PRIDE and UFC representatives were at odds about what should or should not be included in the California rules.

It appears that the note struck by PRIDE, which expressed a desire for its liberal standard to be reflected in the rules, resonated with the commission. “I don’t think I have any problem with their rounds or scoring system,” Lohuis said. He also added that, with the exception of a few tactics, PRIDE events in California would look remarkably similar to those in Japan.

“I’m of the opinion that the rules should be flexible enough to meet all organizations needs as long as safety isn’t violated,” Lohuis continued, sentiments echoed to Sherdog.com by commissioner Bruce Jenner in early February.

“From our past experience at the meeting in November we had a good feeling about things,” said Turi Altavilla, Dream Stage Entertainment VP of Production. “And we feel the same way [today]. We’re confident things will go well and we’re just hoping for them to have an open mind.”

If the CSAC allows for a broad spectrum of rules, that has to be considered a coup for PRIDE, which greatly desires to promote a live event in the U.S. but has failed to find a suitable situation. (In 2002, PRIDE earned a promoters license in Nevada, a state that uses the strict standard outlined by the Unified Rules.)

“We just feel that we have our rules in Japan that have developed through our experiences, balancing entertainment with the safety of the fighters, making for exciting matches,” Altavilla said. “We feel that our rules have evolved to the point where they are the best for the fans and fighter safety, of course, because that is the most important thing.”

Since buying the UFC in late 2000, Zuffa has repeatedly made it known that the company will refrain from promoting events in states that do not adhere to Unified Rules. Whether that remains its policy if California uses a less restrictive set of rules is unknown; attempts to reach Zuffa representatives went unanswered. (Both UFC president Dana White and COO Kirk Hendrick are expected to attend Tuesday’s hearing.)

California is the largest untapped fight market available to American MMA promoters. Lohuis said he anticipates the commission would take in between $500,000 and $1 million in revenue in the first year of sanctioning the sport. By comparison, boxing brought in $1.2 million last year.

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Anatoly Malykhin