There will be blood

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  December 18, 2009

Despite his famous enthusiasm for boxing— and having been ringside when super-featherweight Colombian boxer Jimmy Garcia was pummeled toward his deathbed in 1995 — McCain labeled MMA as "human cockfighting" that "appeals to the lowest common denominator in our society."

McCain leaned on Arizona venues in 1996 to cancel MMA events (which they did), and sent letters to US governors urging them to ban the sport. Pay-per-view contracts were subsequently severed, and nearly 40 states fell in line with the directive. Massachusetts never outlawed MMA, but, until now, state inspectors never oversaw matches, either.

Which isn't to say that MMA is new to the Bay State. Although the bill to regulate MMA statewide will not take effect until March 1, 2010, a legal, albeit un-superintended, movement has flourished in Massachusetts for about a decade. Regional organizations like Full Force Productions, World Fighting League (WFL), and World Championship Fighting (WCF) have drawn thousands to events at such venues as Shriner's Auditorium in Wilmington and Club Lido in Revere, and provide substantial avenues for fighters training at such area gyms as Wai Kru in Allston and Sityodtong in Somerville.

In the absence of oversight, promoters themselves have been responsible for policing everything in such matches, from round times to safety precautions. According to WCF founder Joe Cavallaro, his league supervised in accordance with procedures outlined by the UFC, to which it sometimes feeds talent. And as the UFC scrubbed its image under new ownership, other small Bay State MMA leagues surfaced and followed suit.

The road to regulation here was paved by everyone from fighters to municipal inspectors, all of them considering the harm done to Golden Era boxers who were used like race horses. The Massachusetts Boxing Commission flirted with sending delegates to WCF bouts in the mid-2000s, but ceased that effort in light of inadequate guidelines. "There was a question over whether they really had authority over MMA fights," says Cavallaro. "[State statutes] only defined boxing— not mixed martial arts — so they stopped. But even without the Boxing Commission looking over my shoulder, I stuck with the general safety and medical requirements that they had enforced."

Future of compliance
If smooth planning continues — and key municipalities like Boston and Worcester accept the forthcoming state protocol, as they are likely to do — the first UFC spectacle in Massachusetts should go down next summer at either Fenway Park or TD Garden, according to UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner and Massachusetts Boxing Commission Chairman Dan Fitzgerald. (Under the new legislation, the Boxing Commission will be renamed the State Athletic Commission, which will now license boxers and MMA fighters.)

Both of those parties — as well as such local businessmen as Cavallaro — are collaborating almost daily to draft agreeable provisions. It's a challenge, since MMA differs from boxing in everything from glove weight to weight classes. But by implementing ideas from model statutes in Nevada and New Jersey, Fitzgerald and those coaching him believe that Massachusetts can devise an archetype that will influence nearby states, including Vermont, Connecticut, and New York, to adopt similar regulations.

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