Thursday, June 23, 2022

California’s USFL Aims To Expand Regulation Of Youth MMA

MMA’s popularity has exploded since the turn of the century, and many kids now grow up idolizing the sport’s top fighters as they dream of their own combat sports careers.

A recent story by The Washington Post profiled the United States Fight League, a California-based promotion that has been hosting state-sanctioned MMA events since 2014 for fighters ages 8 to 17.

The organization was founded in the early 2000’s by Jon Frank, a former Marine and U.S Marshal. Frank doesn’t make any money from the non-profit venture, but he has a clear goal in mind.

“My whole focus is to use this sport to build the character of kids,” Frank told The Washington Post.

One fighter from the article who perfectly encapsulates how popular MMA has become among kids is 10-year-old Isaiah Trina. Known by his nickname “The Natural”, Trina traveled from Florida to California for a USFL event in May.

The event was the largest one the USFL has held so far, and Trina used the opportunity to show off his skills as well as antics such as imitating Conor McGregor’s famous “Billionare Strut”.

The United States has no formal governing body for youth MMA, so it’s currently up to athletic commissions in individual states to decide whether or not to sanction such competitions. While the USFL has been able to hold events in a few states outside of California, it’s still difficult to find willing commissions in the majority of the country.

Despite the obstacles they’ve faced, the USFL has already helped to develop several top MMA fighters. Angela, Christian and Victoria Lee of ONE Championship all competed for the USFL in their youth. Angela is ONE’s current 115-pound champion, while Christian formerly held their 170-pound belt.

The hesitance of some athletic commissions is understandable given the health risks associated with MMA. Brain health in particular is a constant talking point at even the highest levels of the sport, so it’s no surprise that it’s major concern for commissions even though youth MMA does not allow head strikes.

ONE Championship’s Lee siblings are veterans of the USFL. (ONE Championship)

New York was famously the last state to legalize MMA, and chief medical officer Nitin Sethi of the New York Athletic Commission commented on the difficulty of sanctioning youth MMA compared to more traditional sports that kids play.

“This is different than contact sports,” Sethi said. “This is combat sports. Everything you’re doing is magnified, and that’s especially true for children…It’s very hard to make them completely safe.”

The number of kids wanting to get involved in MMA will only increase as the sport gains more popularity, so it’s possible we’ll see organizations such as the USFL pave the way for youth MMA regulation in the future.

What’s your reaction to the USFL’s efforts? Should youth MMA be more widely regulated and sanctioned?

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