New Jersey State Athletic Control Board Chairman
By Josh Gross
Larry Hazzard, the man who can make or break Mixed Martial Arts in New Jersey, made an impressive speech at the IFC fighter meeting 2 hours before the first professional Mixed Martial Arts event was to be held in New Jersey. The speech indicated that Mr. Hazzard had done his homework on the sport, and yes, he perceives Mixed Martial Arts as a sport, the "ultimate sport" as a matter of fact. I spoke with Mr. Hazzard both before and after the IFC Battleground 2000 show. He shared his thoughts on the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, it’s place in New Jersey and his thoughts after it was all said and done.
FCF: Mr. Hazzard, this is a historic event in New Jersey and a historic event for Mixed Martial Arts. Why did you grant the IFC the opportunity to compete in New Jersey?
Larry Hazzard: Well, first off I met with representatives of the IFC. They gave me tapes of their events. They gave me copies of their rules and regulations. I know some of the history of the IFC. Having a background in the martial arts, I understand what they’re all about. I think that this form of competition got a bad rap early on when it was being billed as "no holds barred." You know, perceptions are very real. The perception at that time was it was street fighting for street fighting sake. I don’t think the public appreciates that kind of competition. Once they went back and really refined what the sport was really about, I think it has now reached greater levels of acceptance-not only in New Jersey, but also in other states. I think this is a very crucial step for them because New Jersey has the status that it does in the combative field. If they make good here I think this will give them a great opportunity to go other places. I simply think that people have the right to expression. The martial arts is a very formidable form of competition and this is nothing more than the evolutionary stage of karate as it evolves into a more sophisticated level of competition. I think, as a public servant, we have an obligation to give the people what they want as long it fits within the framework of health, safety and welfare being uppermost in our minds. Here in New Jersey, we take great pride in putting the competitors first. The IFC has demonstrated to us that they also concur with our mission. They have met all the standards as they pertain to health and safety. All the fighters have gone and taken all the medical testing. They certainly satisfactorily met the standards of medical testing: CAT scans, EKG, HIV tests, blood tests, so they’ve done that. This is America that we live in, and this particular form of expression has a following. That, following along with the competitors should not be denied that ability to express just like boxers, wrestlers, and any other form of combative expression. They have a right to do that, and as long as they meet the standards of health and safety they should be given that opportunity.
FCF: How closely did you follow the proceedings in California? How much of an impact did the California State Athletic Commission passing Mixed Martial Arts have on you here?
LH: I conferred with California sort of as an afterthought, but I don’t think I need other states to tell me what’s right. I think the standard has to be met in terms of health, safety, welfare, rules, regulations and professionalism, then you make your judgment off of that. Certainly I reached out to California to get a viewpoint, I reached out to Mississippi to get a viewpoint, but the basic concept of fairness and allowing individuals their right to expression I think is something they have a right to do. That was the basic scheme of thinking that went into the decision making process.
FCF: Is this show tonight a litmus test for the IFC and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in New Jersey?
LH: Well, I think it’s a litmus test not just for New Jersey, it’s a litmus test for the sport. Each time out, regardless of where you go, whether it is in Canada, California, Mississippi, Florida or Nevada…wherever the sport goes, it’s a litmus test, especially during these times. These are the formative years of the sport. Like anything else, until the sport matures, each time out is a test and everyone has to be on their P’s and Q’s and everyone has to be cognizant of putting their best foot forward each time out because no matter where they go, it’s a test.
FCF: If that happens, can you foresee a future where Mixed Martial Arts competitions carry purses comparable to boxing?
LH: I can envision it because the martial arts has a tremendous following anyways. As I said, this is nothing more than an evolutionary phase of the martial arts. It takes in all of the various disciplines of the martial arts into one package. Now, the test will be how much the public buys into it. That’s the bottom line.
FCF: Have any people associated with boxing expressed any concerns to you about having Mixed Martial Arts come into the state of New Jersey?
LH: No, I mean there’s no reason to. Boxing has stood alone for hundreds of years among some of the greatest professional sports of any time. So it’s not like boxing is competing against this, no. Each professional sport competes against itself because the general populous picks the sports it likes the best. I don’t think they do it in how one compares to the other. There is an inclination towards one particular form of competition and that’s the way they go. Each sport develops their own following. I think Mixed Martial Arts over time has developed its own following. Most of the people here probably have already decided they like this form of competition so they become part of the following. Many of these people probably like boxing; some may not like boxing as much, some may not like this [MMA] as much. This is nothing more than another part of the variety and selection that people have when they want to be entertained.
FCF: Mr. Hazzard, tell me your thoughts on the show.
LH: I thought the show was exciting. The crowd was really into it. It appeared to be safe enough. We’ll work on a couple of things. The only thing I had a problem with, if I was to offer some constructive criticism, and something I think they’d take a look at, is guys getting kneed in the head while on the ground. But other than that, it seems as safe, if not safer than boxing.
FCF: How many events have you seen, either in person or on tape?
LH: I’ve seen about 10 to 12 on tape. This is the first show I’ve seen in person.
FCF: How did it compare watching the event live rather than on tape?
LH: Well, it’s always a little more intense when you see it in person. Overall, I think it’s something the people enjoy and I think it’s something that can really grow. I don’t have any problems with it.
FCF: Great, thanks for your time.
LH: You’re welcome.