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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Regulating mayhem in martial arts

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Last year the Legislature gave us a state law regulating mixed martial arts.

This year the idea should be to put some real teeth into it.

As the most basic of beginnings, the 2005 measure was a first step. But that's all. Recent events continue to show the need to expand upon it to meet the demands of a growing and so-far surprisingly unregulated industry.

When Icon promoter T. Jay Thompson suspended headliner Jason "Mayhem" Miller on Saturday while first-degree burglary charges and possible revocation of probation on an unrelated assault charge are addressed, it showed commendable responsibility on the promotion's part.

But it also reminded that without real rules in place the industry is dependent upon the people involved taking the rare initiative to police themselves. A dangerous proposition indeed in any industry when you're depending upon the very people who profit by the business to choose conscience over their check books.

Meanwhile, on a separate card at the Blaisdell Arena on Friday, doctors stopped a main event after two rounds when Wesley "Cabbage" Correira was diagnosed with a broken right arm said to have been caused by a pre-fight locker room fall. The bout went on when Correira told promoters he still wanted to fight.

In addition, after a participant was a late scratch from a bout scheduled for 170 pounds, a 157-pound fighter was substituted with one-sided results.

Both of those situations, along with Miller's status, could and should have been handled under the jurisdiction of an independent governing body.

With the power of state law, the kind Hawai'i began undertaking some 80 years ago for boxing, a regulatory group would have say-so on fighters and their condition before they step into the ring. There would be universal rules, oversight of matches and inspectors tasked to enforce them.

As it is now anybody can slap down $500, fill out a few papers and put on a show. Each promoter need only have a set of rules, an experienced referee, a doctor at ringside and provide the state's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs with an unedited video of the matches.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. As it stands now, there is no uniformity to the rules, no one responsible for licensing and regulating referees, judges or fighters. There are no criminal background checks required for promoters or participants.

What a mixed martial arts industry worthy of the following it is gaining needs is a regulatory commission, be it one exclusive to mixed martial arts or part of the existing boxing commission retooled to bring in martial arts expertise.

Last year's law was a start, now the Legislature needs to follow up with a law that packs some punch.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.