Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Open Letter to the Assembly Regarding MMA in NY

Dear Assembly Member,

I am writing in regard to the Mixed Martial Arts bill (A02604), which is currently being considered in the Assembly.

I am a the founder of the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY, which represents fans, students, athletes and coaches of Mixed Martial Arts in New York State. We fully support the regulation of professional and amateur MMA. Since 2009 we have played an active roll in educating the public as well as our legislators regarding the sport of MMA and why it is critical that it be regulated in NYS. We have worked directly with Association of Boxing Commission trainers to educate our state's amateur MMA officials, athletes and coaches. We have even produced an acclaimed documentary called New York MMA, which is now available on Hulu. I believe this short film would be a great introduction for you as to who we are, as well as an educational piece regarding the sport of MMA.

As we are at a critical moment regarding MMA in New York, I wanted to speak to you and stress our belief that A02604 as currently written is inadvertently placing New York's amateur athletes at a higher health and safety risk by forcing them to either turn professional or not compete at all. This will essentially force many (in my estimation most) athletes and promoters back to the underground unregulated fight scene; which we clearly do not support.

As we have seen in Washington this week, poorly regulated fights can have very serious consequences. In fact, Since 2012, five amateur combat sport athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated events nationwide (none in New York). Here is my editorial regarding the desperate need for a higher standard of amateur MMA regulation, not just in NY, but nationwide.

We in New York have a rare opportunity to lead by example - to raise the bar and protect our amateur athletes. To ignore this issue in A02604, as it is currently written, would be negligent.

In 2014 there were a total of 54 amateur MMA events in NYS (functioning under a wide spectrum of third party regulation, or none at all). Each event had approximately 15 bouts, or 30 athletes. That totals approximately 1,620 athletes (not accounting for athletes who fought more than once). This is nearly double the amount of 2013 events. When one does the math we see that this community is very large; as with most sports, much larger than New York's professional MMA community. To not account for the safety of our amateurs, and only focus on the regulation of professional, we are throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Additionally, aside from sacrificing the safety of our amateur athletes by pushing them back to the underground as the current bill would do, we believe NY will be sacrificing significant revenue by not providing for Athletic Commission regulation of amateur MMA in the bill. Consider the possible revenue if these 1,000+ amateurs had to acquire an annual $35 Association of Boxing Commissions license, paid to the NY athletic commission (as they do in NJ, PA, etc). We are looking at very significant numbers and we have not even considered promoters licenses, seconds licenses, venue rentals, medical staff, hotel, food, travel and other aspects which surround the very large NY amateur MMA circuit.

Importantly, amateur MMA will directly benefit local communities. Large professional events like the UFC (who we wholeheartedly want in NY) will take place in large cities and do not provide direct economic impact to smaller NY communities. Amateur MMA events will provide direct economic impact to the local communities that host them.

It is clear that the definition of amateur as laid out in this bill is incongruous with the norm in amateur sports. A02604 defines an amateur MMA event as any event which simply charges admission for spectators. By this standard, no single amateur wrestling, basketball, football or boxing event in NY would be considered amateur. This is an unrealistic definition which holds MMA to a much different standard than all other amateur sports. Under this definition athletes and promoters will be forced to either turn professional, quit or go underground as in the past.

We absolutely want professional MMA in New York and have been fighting for it for quite some time. However, we believe that sacrificing our amateurs to do so is not the correct path. We are strongly urging that portions of this bill be ratified to allow for New York State Athletic Commission (or an approved, qualified proxy) oversight of amateur MMA if it is to move forward. Let's protect our professionals and amateurs equally.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I were to neglect mentioning of our community's concern over the extremely broad language in the bill regarding how "Gyms, Clubs and Training Camps" will be regulated. Not only is the definition of what consists of an "MMA Gym, Club or Training Camp" poorly defined (and determined in large part by the bill's very broad definition of what an amateur MMA event consists of), the level and scope of the regulation to be placed on these gyms is equally vague. We would like to see greater definition with regard to this issue. Here is one editorial on the matter.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York
Producer, New York MMA

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sports Should Serve To Bring People Together

The opposition to NY MMA has reached new low. As reported in today's Daily News:
The fight against mixed martial arts has escalated, with a group of prominent New York Jewish leaders saying that legalizing the controversial sport could benefit a major anti-Israel force. 
The group has penned a letter to “friends of the Jewish community” that will go to state lawmakers and run in Jewish publications highlighting the fact that the Abu Dhabi government owns a 10% stake in the sport’s biggest league — the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 
Abu Dhabi is part of the United Arab Emirates, which the Anti-Defamation League ranked as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world, the letter says.
The Daily News piece continues:
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot stand by while Albany cuts a deal with a company whose profits will go directly into the hands of an enemy of Israel,” the letter says. “It is our hope that New York will continue its proud tradition as a staunch friend to the Jewish community by rejecting the legalization of mixed martial arts and saying no to a company and country that is clearly no friend of Israel.”
The opposition is clearly grasping at straws if they need to bring global religiopolitical issues into this. I am reminded of the great Fedor Emilianenko years back when asked at an interview (at 7:36 of the linked video) about US-Russia relations and his role as a Russian athlete competing in America. His is reply was spot on: "Sport is not politics. Any sport should serve to bring people together."

To infect international sports, in New York's case MMA, with racial politics is desperate, divisive and opportunistic to say the least. we should keep such politics out of sports. Secondly, the UFC is not MMA! Once again the opposition to our sport will throw the baby out with the bathwater; demonstrating they are anti-UFC, not anti MMA. The vast majority of the New York MMA community has nothing to do with UFC. As with most sports, only a small percentage of athletes and coaches will rise to that professional level. Furthermore, the opposition acts as if the UFC is not yet available in NY, which it clearly is in the form of internet and television viewership.

So, to all my readers - Please contact your Assembly member as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and respectfully inform them that such politics has no place in sports or in New York. Let them know we need to ratify Assembly bill A02604 to allow for regulation of amateur AND professional mixed martial arts in NY! If you are not a native New Yorkers please contact the office of Assembly Speaker Heastie and respectfully let him know you would visit our state to watch live MMA or bring your fighters and teams to compete here!

Contact Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie here:

District Office
1446 East Gun Hill Road
Bronx, NY 10469
Fax: 718-654-5836
District Office Directions

Albany Office
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248
Fax: 518-455-5459
Albany Office Directions

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Community of Athletes in Exile...Still?

In 2011 when The Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY premiered its documentary New York Mixed Martial Arts at the Bronx Week Film Festival to a sold out crowd, we could not have imagined MMA would still be banned in New York five years later. Our intent was not to make a political film, but to make an educational film that introduced viewers to our community. The opposition to MMA in New York ignorantly paints us as violent, misogynistic and uneducated animals who have no place in New York’s society - that we need saving from ourselves.

After viewing the film, acclaimed director Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace, Fightville) wrote:
“Anyone who cares about the future of MMA in New York State needs to watch this eye-opening film to discover who and what is keeping MMA out of Madison Square Garden. Beyond the politics, however, this is a moving portrait of athletes in exile - men and women who are forbidden to engage in the sport they love in their own city.”

Since that time, as a direct result of the constitutional lawsuit against New York on behalf of Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC) and several other plaintiffs, amateur MMA once again became a legally viable option for our athletes for the first time in a decade. Granted, as dictated by the current legislation, the amateur version of our sport is not regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission; and there have certainly been concerns regarding the lack of ubiquitous health and safety standards in third party bodies who have stepped in to fill the commission’s shoes. Nevertheless, the situation for amateurs in New York now is a far cry from the unregulated underground days of MMA in our state just a few years ago. Though there is still work to be done, it is a step in the right direction.  

Sadly, with regard to professionals, as state after state lifted their antiquated prohibitions, New York continued to lag behind. Year after year we would come close, get excited and hope that “this would be the year.” The Senate would pass the legislation; polls would demonstrate NewYorkers wanted professional MMA; Assembly committees would pass the legislation forward…only to be blocked by Sheldon Silver who, who as Assembly Speaker and an opponent of regulated MMA, would stop the bill in its tracks. So, while our amateurs had experienced a breath of new life, our professionals have remained, as Michael Tucker aptly noted: “a community of athletes in exile – men and women who are forbidden to engage in the sport they love.”

It has been quite a while since I posted about the effort to regulate professional MMA in New York. I apologize for the long delay and am thankful for all my readers who have reached out to ask where I have been. I am sure you can imagine how the hamster wheel that is the battle for regulated professional MMA in our state can facilitate apathy. I believe the entire New York MMA community feels it. Admittedly, I have become victim to this as well; preferring to focus a bit more on issues surrounding improvement in regulation of the amateur version of our beloved sport; which we thankfully do have in New York now.

After Albany’s failure to pass legislation outlining regulation of professional MMA in 2014, I had pretty much decided to hang up my gloves in this fight; or at least take a back seat. Years of getting involved, pushing letter writing campaigns, social media campaigns, organizing rallies, doing interviews, lobbying legislators, working with our supporters in Albany, writing stories, even producing a documentary seemed to have little effect on the political tide against us. It was harder and harder to get support in my efforts. People were tired of losing; tired of feeling unrepresented in Albany. Imagine a community of fighters feeling that powerless?

Please don’t misunderstand me; the New York MMA community is a strong one, a vibrant one and a virtuous one. The community has rallied around our amateur ranks with skyrocking numbers of regulated shows year after year. We even had our first amateur MMA event at none other than Madison Square Garden! We have made efforts to take care of the health and welfare of our fellow community members. For example, Live to Fight is a non-profit created by our community for our community that fights “relentlessly for those in the martial arts, mixed martial arts, and combat sports community who are suffering from life threatening illnesses.”

Regarding professional MMA, we have made our voices clear over and over again, and have fought for what we want:

Nevertheless, like Sisyphus’ eternal damnation to push a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down to the valley floor after all his efforts, we New Yorkers have begun to feel powerless against the self-interested power brokers who knew nothing about us and did not care to learn. We knew that we were a virtuous community, no matter how the opposition portrayed us. As philosopher Damon Young notes in his 2011 Daily News Op-Ed piece “Legalizing mixed martial arts in New York should not be a steel cage match:” 
“The physical virtues are obvious. Competitors must be strong, fast and agile. They have a sprinter's lungs, a weightlifter's shoulders and a gymnast's legs - all while keeping their dukes up. They move decisively from boxing to Judo to wrestling, often while coping with pain, exhaustion and pressure. They show the human body at its most swift and robust. 
There are also ethical virtues. To compete in MMA requires courage. Cowardice or foolhardiness won't do. Fighters must face danger with diligence and skill. 
Another virtue is restraint: You commit to a forceful punch or tight lock, but walk away once the fight is won. MMA thrives on mutual trust and cooperation. 
Generosity is also encouraged. The best fighters, like Canadian George Saint-Pierre, are upfront about their own talent - and their opponents'. They neither gush with praise nor withhold it. To win, they must recognize passion, skill and willpower when they see them. Pettiness is no aid. 
Temperance is another virtue: keeping one's body healthy. Anger and brute strength are not enough to win. MMA requires meticulousness in eating and drinking, as well as patience in training. If only more Americans had the fighter's disdain for sodas and snacks. 
Not every fighter exemplifies these traits. There are unfit, cruel, egotistical fighters - just as there are such athletes in every sport. Still, MMA encourages bona fide virtues.”

Then, what seemed a miracle occurred this year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on corruption charges and replaced by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, himself a past co-sponsor of the Assembly MMA bill. Could this be the moment we have been waiting for? Would we finally get professional MMA in New York? Would our now thriving amateur community have a professional outlet to continue on in their careers?

With their stop-gap Sheldon Silver gone, the opposition has been clearly rattled and pushed their message louder than ever before. This brutal and misogynistic sport must not be allowed in our state! Editorial letters began to appear in local papers; like this one in the Albany Times Union:
“We find it unfortunate that mixed martial arts, previously called ultimate fighting, may soon be legalized in New York now that Sheldon Silver is no longer able to prevent a vote on it as speaker of the Assembly ("MMA support strengthens," March 4). 
Why do we need another form of fighting, when we already have so many forms of violence on television, in movies and in video games? A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in January 2014 concluded that "Notwithstanding the paucity of data, the injury incidence in MMA appears to be greater than in most, if not all, other popular and commonly practiced combat sports." They also state that the most commonly injured body area is the head (66.8 percent to 78 percent of reported injuries). 
After learning in the last few years about the risk of concussions for football players, do we want another sport with these injuries? The recent news article shows that the main interest of advocates is the dollar sign. They tout the money to be made in fights, but don't discuss possible injuries of the fighters.
We are proud to live in the only state in the nation that has not legalized MMA. This is not an activity that we need in New York. We hope that others will agree and contact their legislators, telling them to say "no" to this so-called sport. 
Ann and David Brandon”
As harsh as this letter may seem, we know that this is a minority view in New York. We also know (though the Brandon’s neglected to mention this) that the “paucity” of data used in that 2014 study has been questioned with regard to its ability to be generalized. Furthermore, the authors of the study themselves note “More epidemiologic research is urgently needed to improve the accuracy of the injury incidence estimate, to determine the injury severity, and to identify more risk factors for injury in MMA.”

Ask and you shall receive. A January 2015 study, Professional Fighters Brain Health Study, has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a review of which notes that after a 5 year study of 244 professional fighters cumulative brain damage, “Boxing is more dangerous than martial arts:”
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their focus on the head, the boxers in the study generally fared worse than the martial arts combatants, irrespective of age. They showed smaller volumes in the scanned regions of the brain and gave slower mental performances. 
If you want a combat sport that's less likely to cause brain damage, martial arts are better than boxing because they're not so focused on concussing the opponent.

"Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that boxers get hit in the head more," the authors suggest. "In addition to trying to concuss (i.e., knockout) their opponent, martial arts fighters can utilise other combat skills such as wrestling and jiu-jitsu to win their match by submission, without causing a concussion."
It seems a no-brainer that regulated MMA, both professional and amateur, is safer than an unregulated version of the sport; and MMA is clearly safer than boxing with regard to head trauma (not that head trauma does not exist in MMA), yet we still seem to have to point this point this out to our opponents. It also seems a no-brainer that we should not have to explain why MMA is empowering to women.

Regardless of whether the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence says we "contribute to a culture of violence against women" or the New York City Chapter of the National Organization for Women suggests “the issue of violence against women stands out as blight on our society, and nowhere is that violence more disturbingly displayed than in mixed martial arts culture,” we know the opposite is true. We know that MMA can bolster strength, autonomy and self-empowerment of women.

UFC Bantamweight Champion and fan favorite Ronda Rousey clearly doesn’t buy it. She lobbied in Albany this past week to make it clear that she believes MMA belongs in New York. On this very blog Beth Hurrle of The Gals Guide to MMA noted:
“I am trying to understand how a group that tries to stop violence can speak out against a sport that takes active steps to help kids protect themselves against bullying. They also completely ignore the countless women who have taken martial arts classes after being the victim of violence or to keep themselves from being victims of violence. People who practice mixed martial arts learn respect, self control and discipline. These are not virtues that you can associate with a man who beats and sexually assaults women.”
In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan, female MMA fighter L.A. Gennings notes:
“People who wanted to keep women out said they were trying to protect women's bodies — but I want to be in charge of my own body. The idea of men being violent and women being passive are social constructs. Fighting is no more masculine than parenting is feminine.”
Anyone who believes mixed martial arts serves to do anything other than bolster independence, equality and challenge female stereotypes needs to watch this piece on Malaysia’s first female professional MMA fighter.

So, things are looking great here in NY. We have a thriving amateur community, the Senate has passed the bill to regulate professional MMA and we have a past supporter of regulated MMA in the Assembly Speaker’s seat. The opposition is looking foolish as they unsuccessfully struggle to paint us as animals. We are in the home stretch. What could go wrong?

Well, this is New York after all and politics here never quite seems to add up logically. A detailed review by MMA Journalist Jim Genia of the MMA bill that recently passed in the Senate and is headed up the chain in the Assembly, reveals a troubling bit of news: if the current bill is passed in the Assembly as is, we will have to completely scrap amateur MMA in order to get professional MMA.

Yes, you heard me. The bill outlining regulatory requirements for professional MMA has also ratified the sections of the current law that allow for amateur MMA; effectively killing amateur MMA in New York by prohibiting both the New York State Athletic Commission and third party sanctioning bodies from regulating the amateur version of our sport. I suggest everyone read Jim’s breakdown to understand just how silly this is.

I know…I know. It sounds ridiculous. Let’s wipe out the amateur leagues which will feed the new professional leagues we are about to legalize. Let’s put measures in place that will force amateur MMA fighters back to unsafe unregulated underground fights. Let’s sacrifice the health and safety of the much larger amateur MMA community for the much smaller professional community. But, it is true. This is happening.

As fast as things are moving, the bill has not passed in the Assembly yet. Some minor changes in language could fix this problem all together. Jim Genia has some concrete suggestions with regard to how we can address this. Check out his piece: How to Fix a Bill: New York MMA Edition.

Fixing this involves YOUR HELP. I want professional MMA in New York as much as anyone. I think that much is clear. We are so close, closer than we have ever been. After years of fighting for this we deserve it. But, I do not want professional MMA if it will force all our amateurs back into the underground. If you want regulated professional and amateur MMA in New York, now is your time to speak up. Now is the time to contact your local Assembly member. Now is the time to demand the bill be ratified to allow for regulation of amateur MMA by the New York State Athletic Commission, or its proxy. As Jim says in his post:
“When a bill is wending its way through the legislature, it's a malleable thing, and subject to a multitude of changes that can come at any time in the process. And though the Senate-approved bill - S02159 - is a done deal, the Assembly version, A02604, is still a work in progress, and changes to A02604 would mean changes to S02159 (remember: bills are linked, and melded into one when they're presented to the governor to sign).”
At the end of 2015 will our New York MMA community, our entire community still be in exile? Time will tell, but now is your chance to make a difference. Pick up the phone and make the call. Let’s move the whole New York MMA community out of the underground.

Stephen Koepfer
Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good Intentions Don't Save Lives: Another Death In Amateur Combat Sports

Sadly, there has been another death in the world of amateur combat sports. 

I have commented often in this blog regarding the medieval level of regulation in amateur MMA nationally; that unlike our sport's professional counterpart, our amateur athletes are severely neglected by our state, tribal and third party regulating bodies. This neglect on rare and tragic occasions can lead to death. While the tragic passing of 24 year old Dennis Munson, Jr. subsequent to his debut amateur fight may have happened in a kickboxing ring, the multitude of avoidable errors that set the stage for his premature passing are not uncommon in the world of amateur Mixed Martial Arts. In Milwaukee, like amateur MMA in New York and a multitude of other states, kickboxing is unregulated* by the state athletic commission.

From John Diedrich's story - Milwaukee Kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr.'s Dies Following Cascade of Errors By Fight Officials - in Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, we see the familiar ground often laid at amateur MMA events:
So on the night Munson stepped into the ring for the first time, there was no state commissioner or inspectors and no second ringside doctor. Munson and the other kickboxers had not received full physicals by a doctor...
On the night Munson died, the officials failed to intervene at key moments as he exhibited what a dozen independent experts who reviewed a video of the fight say were obvious signs of distress. Several said the fight should have been stopped. 
Even after Munson collapsed, care was delayed by a disagreement over treatment, hang-ups exiting the building and confusion about ambulance care. Skilled paramedics were waved off and Munson was taken to a nearby regular hospital, instead of Milwaukee's Level One trauma center.
Scott Joffe, one of the event's promoters is quoted in Diedrich's story as saying:
"I think everyone did what they could at the time for Dennis....This is just a tragic situation," Joffe said. "Everything we do is done with fighter safety in mind. He looked like an exhausted fighter."
Yes, it is horribly tragic. No promoter wants blood on his hands and Joffe will certainly have to live with the albatross of this death weighing on his shoulders for a lifetime; as will Munson's opponent. Nevertheless, it seems from this report, that contrary to Joffe's intentions, not everything was done with fighter safety in mind. One of the real unspoken tragedies in unregulated amateur combat sports is the phrase "we do everything with fighter safety in mind." This is clearly not the case. As a coach, ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions) trained MMA official and advocate for regulated amateur combat sport, I consistently hear promoters of unregulated events claim that all is being done for fighter safety. To put it bluntly: horseshit.

Here is a very well done breakdown of the fight by top industry experts:

I have been to unregulated events (MMA and kickboxing) with no doctor present; where fighter inspection is minimal or non-existent; where blood work is not required; where there is no pre or post fight physical by a physician; where referees oversee their own fighters in the ring; where judges judge their own fighters in the ring; where medical staff is not ringside when bouts begin; where layers of dirt from street shoes gather in the ring resulting in horrid post takedown skin burns; where fighters step on water bottles left in the cage; where fighters are allowed to use gloves not provided or inspected by the promoter; where a referee prompts a fighter who has just been KO's to stand up; where chokes have been held too long; where rules are blatantly broken by fighters with no response from event officials; where kickboxing officials attempt to regulate MMA without knowledge of the rules; where medical staff was not cageside at the time of injuries; blatantly uneven mis-matches are allowed to go on; and on and on and on. In all these cases promoters will routinely...even proudly...claim that everything they do is in the best interest of fighter safety. These examples are not from hidden "underground" fights. These are all from events "regulated" by third part bodies.

In New York, as noted by journalist Jim Genia in a recent article for Deadspin - "HIV, Hepatitis C, And More: New York's Amateur MMA Scene is a Disaster" - the risks our amateur combat athletes face is not limited to death in the ring or cage.

Don't get me wrong. There are many people doing all the right things for our amateur athletes. But, there are just many doing all the wrong things. The irony is that all promoters claim to be doing the right things and acting in the interest of fighter safety. Consequently, any coach who intends to put a fighter in an unregulated bout must assume promoters are not; and better do his research. Make sure what needs to be done is being done for your fighters. Are promoters intentionally cutting corners? Maybe yes, maybe no. Are they acting out of ignorance believing that they are doing all they can? In some cases yes. However, in the end it does not matter because the result is the same. And in the case of Dennis Munson, Jr., all the right intentions did not save his life. As the old saying goes: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

In July of 2012 I wrote about the death of amateur MMA fighter Dustin Jenson subsequent to an unregulated South Dakota MMA bout (see: Will the Dustin Jenson Tragedy Teach Us Something). Again, Jenson's death was completely avoidable in my estimation. Yet, multiple errors coupled with extremely poor judgement, led to the premature death of a young fighter. Like Joffe with Munson, the promoter of Jenson's fight may have felt he was doing the right things with regard to the safety of the fighters. He was not...and he happened to be Jenson's coach.

Then, less than three months later, tragedy struck again (see: Amateur MMA: When Will We Come Out From The dark Ages). Tyrone Mims was cut down in his prime subsequent to his amateur MMA debut. This time in South Carolina. The second such death in the state since MMA was legalized. In all fairness, South Carolina's State Athletic Commission was regulating these two tragic bouts. However, we may need to be asking ourselves if we are doing enough.

Just weeks after writing my 2013 editorial regarding the growing national concern over amateur MMA regulation, another fighter was cut down in his prime after his debut bout. Felix Elochukwu Nchikwo died subsequent to competing in an unregulated amateur MMA bout in Michigan. According to news reports, there was no pre-fight physical required and there was no cageside doctor or ambulance present.

The bottom line is this: About half of our state athletic commissions regulate amateur MMA. Of those, many have a hands off policy and farm out their responsibilities to third party sanctioning bodies with little, if any oversight as to the quality of regulation offered by their proxy. This is absolutely unacceptable. Professional MMA, with the exception of New York, is strictly regulated by every state athletic commission. Yet, if we were to look at the numbers, MMA like every other sport has many more amateur than professional fighters. I don't know of any formal study, but my guess is that amateur MMA fighters outnumber professionals at least by 10:1. To neglect the safety of these men and women is criminal.

I am tired of writing these editorials and hearing about the deaths that prompt them. Let's get it together and protect our fighters. We need a national policy. Someone step up and do the right thing.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to legalize MMA in New York

*For the purposes of this editorial "unregulated" is intended to mean lack of regulation and oversight by a state athletic commission.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fighters Source National Tournament Finals in NYC

I had the pleasure of sitting cageside to live tweet the Fighters Source National MMA Tournament Finals at the MMA World Expo in NYC yesterday. Overall it was a great show. How great was it? Check out my tweets, it will be like you were there! Ok, maybe not, but it is still pretty cool.

To learn more about Fighters Source, check out my interview with their CEO Anthony Medina and visit

5th annual MMA World Expo at Javits Center - New York News

This weekend saw the fifth annual MMA World Expo in NYC. Check out Fox News' report:

5th annual MMA World Expo at Javits Center - New York News

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fighters Source® Comes Back to NYC For Their National Tournament Finals

On May 23rd, 2013 Fighters Source® made their fist appearance on the New York amateur MMA scene with their Kings of New York event at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I was pleased to be able to cover the event last year and interview Fighters Source® CEO Anthony Medina leading up to their debut New York show. Over a year has gone by and much has changed. Since that time Fighters Source® has gone national with a well reviewed amateur MMA tournament that culminates with a final event at the 2014 MMA World Expo on July 26th at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

On June 21st, leading up to the national tournament finals, Fighters Source® joined forces with New York's Golden MMA to host a regional qualifier here in New York City. Check out veteran Journalist Jim Genia's story on the New York regional event.

With only 6 days to go before the Fighters Source® national tournament finals and their third appearance in New York City, I once again have the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Medina about what's in store and how the brand has evolved over the last year.

NYMMANOW:  It has been a year since the Fighters Source® debut in NYC at the Hammerstein Ballroom; which I also covered for NYMMANOW. Please tell us what has gone on with Fighters Source® during that time. What has changed since last year?

MEDINA:  Our complete business model has changed.  We have become a league instead of a single promotion.  The difference between a league and a single promotion is everything.  A single promotion has only their network and database to recruit talent.  A league uses the joint databases of multiple promotions to discover national talent.  A single promotion markets individual fighters. Fighters get injured, grow old, or retire for personal reasons. Their marketing momentum stops right there, then they must be reignited for their next start.  A league markets a team; teams which are consistent, and can be followed by generations. It is true that the athletes of each team may change, but the team itself remains. The marketing continues to multiply season after season.  Single promotion matches are handpicked by a matchmaker. Fans never know when their favorite athlete will compete next.  They are also in the dark as to who he/she will fight next. This is difficult for converting casual fans to avid fans.  A league runs a season and schedule.  Fans know when their fighter/teams compete next. They also know who they will be fighting, and where the event takes place. This makes tracking and predicting, simple for the fans. Single promotion Champions of a single promotion hold their title until a matchmaker gives them an opponent that can beat them.  A league, by implementing a season, athletes must start from scratch each year. For an athlete to become a three time champ, he/she must work his/her way to the title three separate seasons. This creates true champions, and legends. Single promotions are never ending, at first this may sound like a good thing, but it can get stagnant. With a league, fans enjoy the excitement of a fresh start, the anticipation of a finale, and the time off for their other interests. To put it simple, single promotions flood the market.

NYMMANOW: As you know, amateur MMA is fast becoming a national issue regarding fighter's health, safety and oversight. Fighters Source® hosts events in several states including New York. Unlike professional MMA, only about half of state athletic commissions in the United States oversee amateur MMA; some quite poorly, others quite well. What have you learned about the amateur MMA scene in America during your travels? How did you choose the locations for each branch of the national tournament?

MEDINA:  Each branch was chosen by the various team owners throughout the country that wanted to be a part of the Fighters Source® League. Fighters Source® qualified 8 promotions from around the country and invited them to participate in our Inaugural year as a League.  As far as the first question, where should I start, LOL! Unlike most promoters, that are bounded by their local territory, I have had the unique opportunity to experience various different state and foreign athletic commissions each with various rules and regulations.  States are not uniform in their operations when it comes to amateur MMA.

NYMMANOW: As you know, MMA in New York is a controversial topic with professional still banned and amateur unregulated by the NY Athletic Commission. How have you gone about overseeing sanctioning in your New York events and how has it different from other states? Your first time out here was regulated by the MMA Ki Federation (KICK International). Most recently you used ISKA. How will the Fighters Source® finals at the World MMA Expo be regulated?

MEDINA:  There is very little difference.  We use 3rd party sanctioning bodies as we have done with our other events in New York and Florida. The only difference is how scrutinized MMA is in New York.  Since our last show in New York at the Hammerstein, over 30 amateur sanctioned, accredited shows have been put on, and I would like to think that Fighters Source® played a big part in leading by example about how important sanctioned fights are for the safety of everyone involved.

NYMMANOW: I personally love the state team format in this tournament and think it has great potential for growth. Can you speak to how the idea of a national tournament with state teams arose and any lessons you may have learned along the way?

MEDINA:  It arose right after our New York show.  We saw there was a larger need to include other promotions to put forward the absolute best US Team.  We took the old IFL (International Fight League) model and adopted it to the amateur side of MMA, which seems to have blossomed under those ideals.  Almost like the NCAA National Wrestling Tournament consisting of different schools from different states, and them having national Champions from each weight class.  I have learned that the United States is very fragmented in the various rules and regulations for MMA among the various states.  It is our hope to have nationally unified MMA rules for not only athletes but for promotions as well.

NYMMANOW: Teaming up with Paul Paone and the World MMA Expo is a fantastic opportunity. How did this come about?

MEDINA:  It's funny that you ask.  My partner, Adam Meyers, CFO of Fighter Source®, and I, were visiting the Hammerstein to investigate throwing another event at that location, and Paul was also looking to also possibly hold the Expo at the Hammerstein.  At the end of our site visit, Paul, Adam and I sat in the hotel lobby and spoke of the benefits for both companies for the Fighters Source® 2014 Nationals being the main event for the Expo.  We are very happy to be a part of the MMA World Expo and look forward to our next one.

NYMMANOW: What's next for Fighters Source® after the Expo. I know you have taken teams overseas in the past. Any plans to take the winners of the finals to represent the U.S. abroad?

MEDINA:  The winners of the Nationals will move on to represent the United States in London at the World Challenge in September.  The World Challenge Finals will conclude the 2014 season.

NYMMANOW: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any final thoughts?

MEDINA:  This past season has been such a great experience.  We have met a lot of different people, different cultures, from various different states.  We were able to experience events in snow, in rain, in heat, indoor events, outdoor events, etc., and it was all great.  The common bond was Mixed Martial Arts.  We look forward to the rest of this season and for the seasons to come. We, as a League, will continue to work toward legalization of Pro-MMA in New York, and the inclusion of MMA in to the Olympics. Thank you to NYMMANOW for this interview, and we will see you at the Nationals!