LANSING ??" A state lawmaker wants to regulate mixed martial arts fights and make them legal in Michigan.
A state House committee heard testimony Tuesday on legislation aimed at expanding state law covering boxing to include contests sponsored by the Ultimate Fighting Championship or other mixed martial arts organizations.
The legislation, which sponsors say still needs work, was approved by the committee and sent to the House floor for future action.
Supporters say the legislation could make Michigan an option for professional mixed martial arts fight promoters. Twenty-three states have in some way regulated the sport, most of them since 2000, and several other states are considering similar action.
“It’s the next big sporting event,” said Rep. Barbara Farrah, a Democrat from Southgate and the legislation’s sponsor. “It’s going to continue to grow.”
Farrah told the House Regulatory Reform Committee ??" which she chairs ??" that she is sponsoring the legislation in hopes of drawing professional fights and the economic benefits that could go with them to Michigan.
Not all states and communities are rushing to embrace the sport. For example, a half-dozen cities in Minnesota have banned or restricted mixed martial arts fighting because of safety concerns. The events also have drawn criticism in some other states.
But representatives of the UFC touted their safety record Tuesday. UFC representatives said they want to come to Michigan, but they want regulation first to help promote safety.
“We are moving one step at a time, one state at a time,” said Marc Ratner, an official with the UFC.
Supporters of the legislation say Michigan’s current law does not allow professional mixed martial arts fights, except at American Indian casinos.
The fights ??" which may include karate, judo and wrestling moves in addition to boxing ??" are growing in popularity at arenas, on television and through pay-per-view events. The events may be held in rings or cages.
The state’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth wants the fighting to be regulated. The department also wants any new laws passed to address both professional and amateur fighting and eliminate any gray areas between the two.
Regulators are concerned about the growth of fighting that could be classified as amateur mixed martial arts. Some promoters have argued amateur fights are exempt under current Michigan law or aren’t covered in statute, a potential loophole that regulators want closed so there is no debate.
“That’s where the major problems are,” Archie Millben, enforcement director of DLEG’s Bureau of Commercial Services, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It’s not these big guys. It’s all the little guys coming in.”