Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Michigan MMA and Toughman

Stacy Young
By Robert Rousseau

Back in 2003, a mother of four named Stacy Young was killed as her husband, Chuck Young, watched. In fact, there were plenty of people present to witness the event—1500, to be approximate— as the tragedy unfolded. These eyewitnesses were different than your standard variety.

You see, they had paid money to watch the event Stacy Young had decided to participate in. Taken further, Young died while competing in a Toughman contest in Florida against a woman with reportedly much more experience fighting than she.

In 1994, a man named Terry Vermaelen— then a Louisiana Locksmith with 56 amateur fights and three Louisiana Golden Gloves titles to his credit— stepped into a Toughman ring in Louisiana against Bobby Troy Depue. Vermaelen had reportedly come to realize that Toughman competitors tended to get away with things that amateur boxers couldn’t (such as holding the back of an opponent's head). Thus, he utilized this knowledge and overall boxing experience to make short work of DePue.

By the second round, the fight was over. Soon after, DePue collapsed and died.

The list of unfortunate tragedies seems long (at least eight, maybe more). Names like Michael Kuhn (Texas Toughman Contest) and Art Liggins (Idaho) are some of the other people that have met with terrible consequences for participating in Toughman events.

Now, unfortunately, MMA fans in the state of Michigan are worried that Art Dore’s shenanigans (the man who founded Toughman) are being lumped in with mixed martial arts in the state of Michigan. The state of Michigan has recently issued a Cease and Desist Order against Adorable Productions and current promoter Gregory Allen Ahrens (affiliated with Dore) to block future cage, ultimate fighting, and Toughman events.

Despite the fact that this Cease and Desist order names ultimate fighting—which is the component of it that has many in the MMA community up in arms—much of the worry may be unwarranted. After all, when G. Archie Millben, Enforcement Director for the Bureau of Commercial Services in Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), was asked whether this was really all about one particular situation and not amateur mixed martial arts as a whole, he responded by saying, “at this time, that’s true.” Further, he continued to shed light by voicing the following:

“The statute [being used] prohibits professional mixed martial arts; if they hold an amateur contest and don’t pay the individuals, we’re not interfering with that.”

Which, by the way, is exactly the reason why the Cease and Desist Order came down. “We got reports that there were a number of events where the contestants were being paid,” says Millben. “[Contestants] had a notice on their website that there was a 25 dollar per contestant charge and a 50 dollar payout. Once we saw that that was going on, then we issued a Cease and Desist Order.”

In short, it’s hard to argue against that. After all, if the contestants were paid, then that’s illegal in Michigan (professional MMA, not amateur, is illegal). Further, the fact that Art Dore and Toughman (a co-promoter with Ahrens in this particular venue) are calling their events MMA events is not something mixed martial arts wants to be associated with; hence, the order may be a good thing for MMA fans. Mixed martial artists are much more than guys with (sometimes) no training willing to throw punches at one another in a ring. In fact, they’re some of the best- conditioned athletes in the world.

That said, at least at present, MMA enthusiasts in this Big Ten state probably don’t need to be worried. Michigan’s DLEG does not appear to be after amateur mixed martial arts as a whole; rather, it’s trying to stop one organization from operating in a reportedly illegal fashion.

However, there also may be some good news for Michigan MMA fans, at least on the professional front (though holding your breath may not be warranted). According to Millben, recently there have been some lobbying efforts with the legislature in the hopes of making professional mixed martial arts legal in Michigan. Further, he notes that, “if [these lobbying efforts] were to be approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, then they’re looking at an effective date of June 2007.” Millben cautions, that although there is a significant amount of support for the initiative, the governor has yet to show any support for professional MMA in their state. Besides, the legislature hasn’t approved anything yet.

So they wait.

Still, Millben’s final words on the matter of professional MMA in Michigan would seem to make sense to a lot of fans.

“There’s a lot of (MMA) events happening out there; we’d just as soon regulate them than allow them to continue in the form in which they’re continuing. Our responsibility is to protect the public, and I don’t think you’re protecting the public if something is happening and you don’t make some effort to regulate it.”

Enough said.


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