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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, May 7, 2005

Bill sets rules for hybrid fight style

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

As police investigate allegations that a boxing coach allowed a juvenile to fight a seasoned fighter in a mixed martial arts match last month, the Legislature has passed a bill with new regulations for the sport.

Proposed rules for fighting

Senate Bill 768 sets requirements for fights involving no-rules-combat, extreme or ultimate fighting, among them:

• Contestants must be medically fit adults who have not been disqualified in another jurisdiction.

• The promoter must draw up rules that protect the safety of the combatants.

• An experienced referee must be in the ring.

• A licensed physician must be at ringside.

• Promoters must provide proof to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs that their event complies with the new law at least 30 days before the event and must provide an unedited videotape of the event afterward.

• Fines of up to $10,000 could be imposed for infractions.

Gov. Linda Lingle has until July 12 to sign Senate Bill 768, which addresses conduct and permits for martial arts fights and requires promoters to put specific safeguards in place. It also would levy a fine of up to $10,000 for infractions.

The state said the rules are necessary to regulate a violent activity that's gaining in popularity, and a promoter said it's a step in the right direction. Even further, he'd like a commission set up for mixed martial arts to oversee it just as boxing is regulated by its own commission.

And the father of a 14-year-old boy who was beaten in a fight against a 32-year-old man last month also agreed rules are necessary.

Christine Hirasa, spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said, "The bill was needed so that there would be some oversight of what has become a very popular event.

"The department proposed the bill because this type of activity should meet certain minimum standards to address the safety of the fighter participants."

T. Jay Thompson, who promotes Super Brawl events in Hawai'i and elsewhere, said the new rules are a step in the right direction. But Thompson said he would like to see a mixed martial arts commission set up similar to the state Boxing Commission, and he would like referees to be certified.

"I'm a strong proponent of mixed martial arts, and I'll argue the safety of it against other contact sports," Thompson said. "But it is still a contact sport, and there needs to be strict regulations either from within the organizations themselves or from government regulations."

Mixed martial arts blends boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiujitsu and several other martial arts into one. It is perhaps more identifiable by brand names like Ultimate Fighting Championship or Super Brawl.

Since its formative years, which were only around 10 years ago, mixed martial arts has suffered from a perception that it is excessively violent.

Thompson said some of that was caused by marketing hype. The TV commercials made it "look like the end of the world was coming to sell tickets."

He said the sport got a big boost three years ago when the Nevada athletic commission sanctioned bouts.

Mixed martial arts is so popular here that about 20 training centers have opened in the past decade, and there are fights nearly every weekend at school gyms, the Blaisdell Center, at Dole Cannery and on the Neighbor Islands, Thompson said.

Police are investigating whether a Police Activities League boxing coach and another coach pitted 14-year-old Randolph Kamaiopili Jr. against a 32-year-old fighter in a mixed martial arts match last month at the Dole Cannery ballroom.

The coaches are facing a charge of endangering the welfare of a minor in the second degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, police said.

Current state laws do not address the age of participants in a mixed martial arts contest.

The boy's father, Randolph Kamaiopili Sr., yesterday said he supports the proposed safety and qualification rules. Kamaiopili said his son will continue to train but has changed coaches.

Hirasa said her department has been closely monitoring events such as Super Brawl for years, and has pre-event discussions with the promoters to make sure they are safe.

"In that way, the department was able to proactively work with promoters to prevent injury," she said. "The (new) bill sets forth minimum standards that would be required for events to occur in the state."

Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said the governor is reviewing the bill. Pang said even though it was part of the governor's legislative package presented at the start of the session, the wording was changed, and she wants to read the final language before making a decision.

Professional fighter Bryson "The Kid" Kamaka, said the sport is a discipline like many other martial arts.

Kamaka, 19, trains at the 808 Fight Factory in Waipahu, which is run by his father, Kai Kamaka.

"I know many kids that like the sport want to become fighters when they get older," Kamaka said. "We try to stress to them that you only do this in the ring. This is my passion. I love this sport."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.