The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 2, 2011

Senate wrestles with mixed martial arts bill

A bill to allow mixed martial arts in the state of West Virginia garnered mixed reactions in the state Capitol Tuesday, as state senators continued to weigh the pros and cons of the bill.

The bill was intended to makes changes to the West Virginia Athletic Commission, but an amendment to the bill would make mixed martial arts, or MMA, a sanctioned state sport.

Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, said he likes the potential of the sport, but he wants to look into the bill before it moves further through the Senate.

“On the surface I feel like, that if it is regulated properly, it could be something I would be in support of here in West Virginia,” Green said. “I definitely want to make sure the safeguards are in place to keep the fighters protected.”

Aside from the revenue-generating potential of a new sport in the state, participants say the event is a major part of their lives. Some even say the sport has changed their lives for the good.      

William Hale, 30, is a mixed martial arts specialist and manager of an AT&T store. At the moment, the only way he can shine in his sport of choice is to bring trophies from other states back home to West Virginia. He said he wants to see mixed martial arts in his home state.

“Honestly, it’s revolutionized my life. I was 210, 215 pounds when I got started,” Hale said. “I’m 170 pounds now. It improved my diet; essentially, everything about my life has been enhanced.”

Hale said the risks of the sport are definitely there but not as much as opponents are claiming. He said much of the data touted by opponents to mixed martial arts is from an earlier period when the sport was not well regulated.

Now, he said, the sport is tightly regulated, and safety is a top concern.

“There’s so much more regulation,” he said. “People are so much more educated about the sport. It’s not the same mixed martial arts there was 12 or 13 years ago.”

He said businessmen, lawyers and other professionals are prominent throughout the sport. He said it provokes interest in exercise and fitness, something Americans have drifted away from in recent years.

“There’s so much we have gone away from as a country, and this is one of them,” Hale said. “We used to be proud of physical fitness, and the American was looked at as a G.I. Joe — six-foot-tall with a chest as wide as a door. Now, when you think about America, we are the weaklings on a global scale.”

Hale said the risks that fighters do undergo are a result of their decisions, and taking away that right to choose is unfair.

“We have Bridge Day in West Virginia, and it’s celebrated,” Hale said, noting fatalities had occurred over the annual event’s BASE jumping history. “… It should be about choice. We put regulations in, and the state can make a ridiculous amount of money on it.”

But some medical professionals say the sport may put its competitors at too much risk. Allen Saoud, a fight physician with 30 years of experience in West Virginia, says despite growing up attending fights with his father, he has concerns about the safety of the fighters.

“These are healthy people you put in a cage, or a ring, or whatever,” he said. “You want them to come out, walking and talking and everything they are supposed to.”

While Saoud has particular concerns as it relates to mixed martial arts, he said he is wary of most types of fighting.

“To be honest, the fight game is something we have had in the United States since the 1800s,” Saoud said. “If it was something brand new, and it came up to us, I honestly would have to look at it with a jaded eye. I’m so concerned for my patients.”

Saoud says through the five MMA fights he has worked he has been lucky not to see any major head trauma but has seen numerous joint injuries.

“At the end of a fight, sometimes my jaw hurts because I’m clenching my teeth so much,” Saoud said. “I’m that concerned about the fighters in the ring.”

 — E-mail: tkuykendall@register-herald.com

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