Saturday, February 24, 2007

Some fighters want bloody backyard bouts regulated by state

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Some sporting officials and fighters are calling on the state to regulate backyard duels modeled after a popular blood sport known as Ultimate Fighting.

Ultimate Fighting, also known as mixed martial arts, is popular with TV viewers and lucrative for some fighters. Some states regulate the sport, providing protections for fighters.

But many amateur matches, held in barnyards and back yards, are a different story. In those bouts, promoters ask few questions of fighters and offer few safeguards.

Critics - including some professional fighters - want the state to regulate amateur matches. "In the long run it would just make for a safer sport, and we are not against that," said Justin Moore, a Lexington fighter who turned pro in January.

After intense criticism in the late 1990s, Ultimate Fighting was banned in more than 40 states, said Tim Lueckenhoff, national president of the Association of Boxing Commissions and an administrator with the Missouri Boxing Commission. But the sport has cleaned up its act in recent years, Lueckenhoff said. Nearly three dozen moves were prohibited, including eye-gouging, groin punches, biting, head-butting and hits along the spine and back of the neck.

Combatants try to win through knockout or submission, using martial arts holds, chops and kicks, wrestling and boxing, with an air of street fighting thrown in. At least 10 states ban all mixed martial arts fights, but more than 30 others, including Kentucky, allow both amateur and professional fights.

States that regulate the sport require promoters to provide medical insurance, Lueckenhoff said. Fighters must show they've been properly trained, that they've passed medical exams and blood tests, and that their fight record has been reviewed.

Kentucky regulates professional fights, but in the amateur matches, there are no required health checks, no certified referees and no doctors around in case someone gets hurt.

Most events are little more than "drinking parties with a fight," said Jeremy Centers, a Georgetown man who has participated in amateur fights. "Safety is definitely not a top priority in most of these fights," said Centers. "You can get hurt, and they don't have people out there ready to handle it."

Centers said he has participated in fights where the referee is not experienced in mixed martial arts fighting. "In my mind, if you don't have a skilled referee, this sport is highly dangerous," Lueckenhoff said. And education officials have expressed concern after seeing students with odd bruises and injuries.

One juvenile student at Evarts High School in Harlan County came to school with such severe facial injuries that social services workers were called, said Bob Howard, the principal.

"I don't care if the kids go out and participate in this sport, if that's what they want," Howard said. "My issue is what kind of regulation, what kind of medical care is there? Are these kids being taken care of when they are injured at these fights, or not until they walk in our school?"

In Kentucky, professional boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts are regulated by the state Boxing and Wrestling Authority. Last year, the authority considered both banning and regulating the sport, but decided not to because amateur boxing is not regulated, said Chris Lilly, acting executive director of the state Boxing and Wrestling Authority.

The Kentucky Sports Authority, which works to attract events to the state but has no regulatory power, also took no action despite pleas to ban the sport from member Larry Bisig, a public relations executive from Louisville.

Bisig called the bouts are "savage and inhumane brutality."

"It defies logic that a cock rooster has more protection in the state of Kentucky than does a human being," Bisig said.


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