By Alanna Durkin, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – The Michigan House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved regulations for amateur mixed martial arts events, days after a 35-year-old man died after participating in a bout in Port Huron, Mich.
The cause of death is still unknown, but lawmakers say the incident highlights the need for the state to set rules such as requiring that fighters receive medical clearance and requiring that an ambulance been on site during the often bloody fights.
“I don’t want to have this conversation six or seven months from now because we didn’t something,” Democratic Rep. Harvey Santana of Detroit, who is sponsoring the bills, told The Associated Press. “I don’t want to explain that to the family of the next fighter who has to suffer this fate.”
Michigan is one of about a dozen states where the amateur bouts are legal but unregulated. Professional events were legalized and regulated in 2007. Mixed martial arts fighters box, but their gloves are smaller than a boxer uses. They also kick, and use judo, jiu-jitsu and wrestling skills, as well as submission holds, to get their opponent to concede.
The bills passed by a 106-3 vote Wednesday would establish an advisory commission to oversee the events. Promoters would be required to provide at least $10,000 in insurance coverage for fighters, and participants would have to be at least 18 years old. Fighters also would have to submit tests proving they aren’t carrying blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis B.
The bills now head to the Senate, where similar measures stalled last year.
Heavyweight fighter Felix Elochukwu Nchikwo, a Nigerian citizen living in Canada under a student visa, was pronounced dead at a hospital after collapsing Saturday night, Port Huron Police Department Lt. Duane Loxton said. An autopsy was completed Sunday, but toxicology results are pending and could take up to eight weeks, he said.
Rob Fisk, who is a medic for many Michigan events, said Canadian fighters often come across the border to fight because the rules in Michigan are more lax.
Calls to the Amateur Fighting Club, the promotion company that hosted the event, were not immediately returned.
Santana said lawmakers are now morally obligated to take action. Santana said it’s possible the proposed regulations could have prevented Nchikwo’s death.
“Anyone that wants to be an obstructionist and raises political issues, my question to them is: Are you going to going with me to the next funeral?” he said.
But some lawmakers said the regulations are an overreach of state power.
“I don’t know if we necessarily need to be involved in regulating Major League Baseball, or hockey or things like that from a state level, so I guess I don’t think we need to be doing the same with MMA,” said Republican Rep. Bob Genteski of Saugatuck, who voted against the bills.
“It wasn’t an easy vote, especially given the man who died not too long ago,” he said.
Al Schefke, director of the Corporations, Securities and Commercial Licensing Bureau within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the bureau does not yet know how much the regulations would cost the state. He said it depends on what the bureau is required to do under the final measures. The bills give the bureau the authority to take action against promoters that don’t comply with the rules, and Schefke said he wants to make sure that power ends up in the final legislation.
Santana said Nchikwo’s death catapulted the issue to the forefront for lawmakers.
“This is good public policy we need to push it through because Michigan’s reputation now hinges upon it.”
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.