Thursday, March 29, 2007

State legislators vote to end regulation of mixed martial arts fights

DES MOINES — Iowa legislators agreed Wednesday that mixed martial arts fighting is bad for the state, but they couldn’t agree on what to do about it.

The Iowa Senate voted 35-12 to end state regulation of this type of fighting, also known as shoot fighting, extreme fighting or ultimate fighting. The bill will head to the House.

The lead sponsor, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the bill will shield the state from liability if someone is injured or dies in a professional mixed martial arts event. He said the measure comes forward because not enough senators can agree to either ban the sport or modify the regulations.

“We’ve begun to realize the real danger of this sport,” he said.

This is the latest step in Iowa’s decade-long attempt to deal with this rapidly growing sport. Monte Cox of Bettendorf, a top manager and promoter of mixed martial arts competitors, said the state is making a big mistake.

“De-regulating it is the biggest pansy way out of this situation,” he said.

Cox has concerns that a lack of regulation will be an invitation for unethical promoters to hold fights in unsafe conditions. He said that would increases the chances of serious injuries or deaths.

Bettendorf has become a center for mixed martial arts fighting because of Cox and trainer Pat Miletich. Nationwide, the sport has grown into a pay-per-view TV phenomenon, with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach,

D-Ames, isn’t a fan.

He voted against the bill because he would rather see the state ban this kind of fighting.

“That’s not a sport. It is a barbaric, disgusting, degrading and subhuman activity that really has no place in the state of Iowa,” he said.

The only physician in the Legislature, Sen. David Hartsuch,

R-Bettendorf, said he has seen patients come into the emergency room with injuries from mixed martial arts fighting.

“This is a barbaric sport,” he said.

A former Bettendorf legislator, Republican Rep. Joe Hutter, used to be the lead defender of the sport in the Legislature. But Hutter failed in his bid for re-election last year.

Without Hutter around, people like Cox don’t know who to talk to about their concerns. Cox said he believes legislators would want to regulate the sport if they understood the safety consequences of not regulating.

Boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts fighting are overseen by the Iowa labor commissioner, Dave Neil, who recommended the Senate bill.

Cox said Iowa is somewhat unique in having the labor department oversee sports. He said the state would be better off if it had a sports commissioner who was an expert in sports regulation.

Dan Gearino can be contacted at (515) 243-0138 and


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