Opinion: Michigan Death and the Need For Regulation in MMA
By Jesse Heitz
Earlier this week, the MMA world was provided with another tragic example of why MMA needs to be regulated. Full Contact Fighter, among others, reported the news that Canadian heavyweight, Felix Pablo Elochukwu, died after his amateur debut in an Amateur Fighting Club (AFC) event in Michigan. Reports indicate that Elochukwu, who had lost via TKO from strikes while mounted, appeared to be fine after the bout. However, he apparently collapsed backstage and paramedics were unable to resuscitate him.
According to Sherdog’s Mike Whitman, the AFC responded to this sad incident by releasing the statement posted below.
“Last night’s event, April 6, we lost a member of our MMA family, and we would like to take this time to honor him. This is a tragic turn of events. We will keep his family and friends in our prayers and we ask you to do the same. May God be with them in this devastating time of loss. To us, this tragedy will not end today. He will remain in our hearts and on our minds. Further information will be posted at a later time.”
The Michigan legislature has been mulling over a bill that seeks to regulate the currently unregulated amateur MMA scene for quite some time now. However, in light of the recent tragedy, and under pressure from both the public and people within the MMA community, the effort to iron out a bill that regulates amateur MMA in the state has been drastically reinvigorated.
The bill currently under consideration proposes nothing new and extraordinary. It’s a common sense bill that provides the oversight and operating procedures that many of us are accustomed to and feel should be the standard. If passed, the bill will require: cage side doctors, paramedics available on scene, pre-fight physicals for fighters which includes blood tests, and the state licensure of the promotions themselves. The violation of these requirements will result in a misdemeanor. The bill also proposes that felony charges be handed out if promoters allow professional fighters to participate in amateur bouts.
Tom Wright, the UFC boss in Canada, where Elochukwu hails from, weighed in on situation by releasing a statement reported on by Bloody Elbow, which read,
“What we don’t know is whether or not there were any pre-existing medical conditions that Pablo was suffering from, and in a regulated environment, we would have known that. We also don’t know if the referees were properly trained. We don’t know whether or not there were the appropriate EMTs and ambulances and medical precautions in place. We don’t even know if it was a fair fight as far as if the competitors were evenly balanced.”
“Those are kinds of things we would know if the sport had been regulated, if the event had been regulated. It speaks to the importance of regulation in our sport, why it’s important that we have the appropriate kind of rigor and standards, from medical care to pre- and post-fight medical testing to drug testing to insuring the health and safety of these athletes is always first and foremost. And in the case of an unregulated event, you don’t know whether those things are in place, which is why we as an organization have always run to regulation.”
Indeed, amateur MMA in the United States is currently a mixed bag. Some states regulate it and implement the necessary safety protocols, while others have either turned a blind eye altogether, while some simply haven’t gotten around to tackling the issue. However, MMA in the United States has been around in an organized format for two decades, it’s time for everyone to get with the program. How can amateur MMA be void of the most basic of precautions such as proper training for referees, fighter medical examinations, and even pre-fight blood tests?
The provisions laid out in Michigan’s proposed bill are not egregious or burdensome in the least. Let’s face it, MMA is a combat sport that has the propensity to cause injury or even death in extreme cases. While the incidence of death and serious injury in amateur MMA is quite small, we still must take the necessary precautions to avoid such senseless tragedies. We must look to the success and stringent safety and regulatory standards that the UFC employs and its spotless record with regards to the absence of serious injuries and fatalities suffered by its fighters.
In this day and age, there is absolutely no excuse for lax or non-existent regulation. The consequences of such sloppiness not only amounts to the tarnishing of MMA’s reputation and legitimacy, but it can lead to the most serious of consequences, the premature ending of careers and the deaths of fighters.