Supporters of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), a sport where athletes trained in a mixture of martial arts styles compete using grappling and striking techniques, are still trying to persuade state legislators to pass a bill that will sanction the sport in Connecticut; one of four states where MMA events are not permitted. Only Connecticut’s Indian reservations, which are domestically dependent sovereign states with their own athletic commissions, are allowed to host the events.
This spring, legislators attempted for the fourth year to get a bill approved that would modify the state’s prize-fighting statute and allow MMA events in Connecticut. When the legislative session closed in May, the senate had not voted and Bill 326 (An Act Concerning Mixed Martial Arts) effectively did not pass.
Wrestling at a high school or college and boxing are permitted under the statute.
State Representative Charles Clemons of the 124th District, Representative Mary Mushinsky of the 85th District, Representative Ezequiel Santiago of the 130th District and Senator Gary LeBeau of the 3rd District co-sponsored the MMA bill. Former West Hartford Mayor Jonathan Harris proposed a similar bill in 2009 while serving as a state senator in the 5th District.
The legislature’s public safety, general law and finance joint committees approved the latest bill, which received support from legislators like State Representative Matt Ritter of the 1st District. Legislators and business owners said approving the bill would generate revenues for the state from licensing fees and a 5 percent tax on gross receipts while bringing spectators toward local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
“New York and Connecticut are the only two states that disallow the sport and truly remain unregulated, and it is time for Connecticut to catch up with the rest of the country,” said Representative Joe Aresimowicz of the 30th District.
Russell Leak, the manager of the Hartford MMA training school Underdog Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, maintains a Facebook page titled “Legalize MMA” urging state officials to legalize the sport.
Not all who testified this year were as supportive. Representative Richard Roy of the 119th District said the sport was a bad influence on children while union spokespersons criticized Zuffa, LLC, owners of the UFC (currently the most famous MMA promotion) for unfair labor practices in Nevada.
“I think it promotes violence to an extreme,” said Roy. “I think that people are beaten into submission before a referee steps in and takes longer than in boxing or the acting that the wrestlers do. I think our society is getting more violent and this just adds to it.”
Others such as Craig Salamone of the Lion’s Den training facility in Middletown have argued that MMA, which allows fighters to verbal submit to an opponent or signal submission through “tapping out,” is safer than boxing.
West Hartford resident James Donohue, who testified on behalf of the bill this spring, stated referees were required to stop an MMA match when a fighter could no longer defend himself.
Connecticut AFL-CIO Secretary/Treasurer Lori Pelletier criticized UFC owners for alleged labor violations and the sport for promoting prejudice and bullying.
“We appreciate the potential for events because our affiliates’ members work in the venues where these take place,” she said in her testimony. “However, the people involved with the MMA world have created problems for members of the Nevada AFL-CIO and we cannot in good conscience condone their actions by supporting this bill. With nearly 80 unfair labor practices, clearly these owners are not responsible partners. But even if that situation resolves itself we would object to this bill unless some changes in structure can be maintained. The world of MMA, while it may be exciting and entertaining to some is demeaning to many. Women, and those in the LGBT community are often the brunt of slurs and comments used to further the competitive nature of these events.”
Spokespersons for ASAP (Amateur Sports and Professional Fight League), a Florida-based MMA organization with a training facility in Baltic, said it will only be a matter of time before the legislature passes the bill in some form. Owner Peter Rogers said the sport would not be difficult to properly regulate.
“Everybody else is doing it,” he said. “The events are going to other states.”
MMA organizations headquartered in Connecticut include Marlborough-based Reality Fighting and Glastonbury-based AMMO Fight League. Both companies hold mixed grappling tournaments that do not allow striking and are permitted under the current statutes.