Rules for amateurs


Nearly every weekend, scores of young men — and a growing number of women — square off in mixed martial arts competitions across Michigan. They do it for free, often without insurance, and frequently with no doctor present in case of an injury. That has to stop.

Whatever the entertainment value of two people punching, kicking, choking, and wrestling each other until one or the other fighter submits, is unconscious, or can’t defend himself or herself, it is legal in most states, including Ohio and Michigan. But while Ohio law attempts to provide a layer of protection for participants, amateur battlers in Michigan and a dozen other states must fend for themselves.

Mixed martial arts fights have been legal in Michigan since 2007. State law requires that promoters of professional bouts must be licensed and carry insurance for fighters. But there are no similar regulations for amateur bouts; indeed, there are practically no regulations.

Amateur fighters in Michigan don’t know whether their opponents have HIV or hepatitis, because the state doesn’t require a medical exam. The Ohio Athletic Commission doesn’t allow athletes who fight in Michigan to compete in Ohio, for fear of spreading disease.

Amateur fighters in Michigan who suffer head injury, even repeated trauma, don’t have to report it to a governing authority, which puts them at risk of even more serious harm. And they may not know the extent of their injuries, because promoters don’t offer insurance and they often don’t have their own.

Ohio requires that professional and amateur fighters provide negative test results for HIV and hepatitis B and C, all of which can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. A CAT scan or MRI can be ordered for any fighter who loses three straight bouts by knockout or technical knockout, loses five bouts in a row, or has an extensive losing record. Ohio law bans fighters who have had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Promoters of amateur or professional bouts in Ohio must be licensed, provide surety bonds, and obtain event permits. They must carry at least $10,000 in insurance in case of injury or death. A doctor and ambulance with emergency personnel must be at every contest.

Ohio law tries to protect amateurs from some of the sport’s most devastating blows. Amateur fighters here are not allowed to strike their opponent with an elbow. Knees and kicks to the head are forbidden, as are leg-twisting submissions.

Fans of mixed martial arts point out that the sport it is no more dangerous, and perhaps safer, than football. That’s hardly a recommendation, given the growing evidence of the long-term effects of concussions and other injuries on football players. In fact, it’s even more reason to try to reduce injuries.

A bill before the Michigan House includes many of the same protections for amateur fighters that are written into Ohio law. It would correct a serious oversight in the Michigan law that authorized this bloody sport. It should be enacted without delay.