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House Wrestles With Safety, Regulation of Mixed Martial Arts

The House Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee heard from various witnesses Thursday (Nov. 9) as it investigates the safety and integrity of mixed martial arts (MMA) and whether more regulation of the sport is needed.

That came in a hearing with the neutral title: "Perspective on Mixed Martial Arts," which was billed as a $4 billion industry.

The majority of revenue from MMA comes from PPV TV revenues, in addition to cable series rights deals (currently with Fox).

At issue is the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act, which would amend the Professional Boxing Act of 1996 to "(1) establish definitions for 'fighter,' 'combat sport competition,' and 'mixed martial arts'; and (2) include individuals who fight in a professional mixed martial arts competition or other professional combat sport competition, such competitions, and the professional combat sports industry within the scope of such Act."

IT would also require the Association of Boxing Commissions "to establish: (1) guidelines for minimum contractual provisions that should be included in bout agreements and mixed martial arts and other combat sport contracts, and (2) guidelines for objective and consistent written criteria for the ratings of mixed martial arts and other combat sports."

The bill also applies provisions that prohibit a promoter from having a financial interest in managing a fighter.

Marc Ratner, SVP of government affairs, for UFC, argued against extending the boxing regulations to MMA. He said state regulation is real and effective, that MMA is not run like boxing and doesn't have the same problems, and that the law would undermine MMA as it has hindered boxing's growth.

Related: Mayweather-McGregor Fight Challenges PPV Buy Record

The legislators generally recognized the popularity of MMA and the value of sports in general, but also sought to understand how MMA self-regulated against corruption. Ratner pointed out that no evidence that a UFC fight had ever been fixed.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was concerned about MMA camps for kids as young as six years old and the possibility for traumatic brain injuries.

Randy Couture, six-time MMA world champion, said he had come to hate some of the business behind MMA as much as he loved the sport. He supports extending the law to ultimate fighting. "The Ali Act curbs exploitive business practices and protects honest competition and the integrity of sport," he told the subcommittee.

Couture said his issue was not on the health and safety side, but the financial side. He said mid-tier and lower-tier fighters can't make a decent living, but Conor McGregor gets a boxing license (to fight former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather) and makes ten times what he can make in MMA and he is one of the highest paid.

Ratner countered that nobody in MMA gets less than $10,000 just to show up, while five boxers in the McGregor-Mayweather undercard made under $7,500. "We do the right thing by our fighters."

The questioning was generally cordial, with the legislators trying to figure out the right way to proceed.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.