Several promoters across Colorado received a rather unwanted wake-up call yesterday in the form of a ban on all amateur mixed martial arts bouts in the state. Though Colorado State Boxing Commission Director Josef Mason was unavailable for comment at the time of publication, many of the promoters that were notified by state officials yesterday commented on the situation, verifying that the ban was indeed instituted, effective immediately.
"Amateur mixed martial arts in the state of Colorado has been banned, at least for the time being," said one of the state's pioneering promoters on the amateur side of the sport, Steve Alley. "But amateur kickboxing, even as part of a professional MMA card, would still be allowable." According to Alley, as he understands it, there isn't much hope for any change in the situation for "at least 6 to 8 months, and probably longer." (Many promoters said the ban sounded indefinite.) So far, without a statement from the commission, it is difficult to piece together the logic of the move.
Most of the promoters questioned said they weren't given much in the way of a detailed explanation regarding the ban, but Devon Thorne, co-promoter along with Jorge Chacon of an all-amateur mixed martial arts event entitled Savage Battleground, said that he was told that the Colorado commission was basically comparing MMA to boxing.
In boxing, the state sanctions all of the professional bouts, while a separate body sanctions all of the amateur bouts. This typically holds true for MMA in the state as well. The primary difference is that, in boxing, the state only sanctions professional bouts, and the amateur bodies only sanction amateur bouts. In MMA, the state only sanctions professional bouts, while the bodies that sanction amateur bouts in Colorado also sanction professional bouts in other states. This is apparently now viewed by the Colorado State Boxing Commission as unacceptable.
As of Monday evening, June 19th, the International Sport Karate Association and International Karate Federation, both of which sanction professional and amateur MMA bouts in various states, were listed on the Colorado State Boxing Commission's website (http://www.dora.state.co.us/Boxing/
) as "recognized... national sanctioning bodies to approve events in Colorado."
In any situation like this, of course, money becomes a large part of the discussion, as it did with some of the promoters questioned. They say that the state basically charges a fee of $1,400 to sanction a professional event in Colorado, as well as taking 7% of the gate receipts. In contrast, most of the amateur events in Colorado are sanctioned by the ISKA, which most promoters said typically runs them around $500, plus additional fees if there are any ISKA-sanctioned title belts on the line, but no portion of the gate receipts.
"It definitely isn't in the best interests of the fighters," said trainer/promoter Chuck Daily of the Kongo Do dojo in Colorado Springs. "It's greed on the commission's part. I thought they did the right thing two-and-a-half years ago when they decided to leave the amateurs alone."
While most of the promoters are still shell-shocked, with several amateur or pro/am mixed cards scheduled over nearly every weekend for the next month, most are quickly pursuing various actions to deal with the situation.
Gino Carlucci, who heads up the Worldwide Fighting Championship, in addition to paying any fighters on his July 1st card in Loveland, has offered to cover the licensing fees of any amateur fighters that wish to turn professional in order for them to stay on the card.
Kickdown promoter Steve Alley plans to move forward with his planned July 15th show, which was to be an all-amateur card. Alley's shows are typically a mix of MMA bouts, along with a smattering of kickboxing bouts, but for July 15th, he now intends to put on a handful of professional MMA bouts along with a stronger emphasis on (meaning more) amateur kickboxing contests on the card.
As for what all of this means for mixed martial arts and its athletes in Colorado over the long term, that is a little more difficult to extrapolate on, but many promoters did on various points. One of the most common points was that this will automatically create an influx of professional fighters in the state that will saturate the market.
"It's going to flood the market and distort everything," commented Thorne. "Everything will be advertised as pro fighters, but it will be the same guys that fought on shows a month ago as amateurs." Rocky Mountain Bad Boyz' Keith Schmelzer, another promoter of primarily amateur shows, agreed: "Every fighter in Colorado is going to be punished because there will be an abundance of lower-priced pros." Carlucci's offer to pay the licensing fee of amateur fighters who are willing to turn pro to stay on the WFC's July 1st card is case in point. These are primarily fighters that had chosen to remain amateur, but now may be forced to make a tough decision. Stay amateur and get little to no experience, as most out-of-state promoters are unwilling to pay travel expenses for out-of-state amateur athletes when they can fill their card with locals that draw more ticket sales anyway. Or do they turn professional at a time when most fighters are directed by their trainers to work on their skills and develop into professional level talents at a more functional pace? Thorne is of the belief that many amateur fighters are going to have to turn pro if they want the experience, and that the situation isn't a positive one. "I think it's a mistake. I'm really concerned about the fighters. We [Savage Battleground] may have to go pro, but we'll be careful about who we put in there," he said.
Thorne continued, "It's going to be tough for me. I want to give guys a chance to learn and become quality professional fighters. We were building fighters to turn pro [at our amateur shows]." Daily was more blunt than most of the others questioned, although many were probably thinking his words, "This is a slap in the face to all the promoters, fighters, and trainers that have been involved in this sport for years."
But nearly everyone echoed the resilient final words of Alley, "You can't just quit, you have to move forward. I have no intention of quitting."