The Minnesota Combative Sports Commission announced it will be more vigilant in enforcing the lines between amateur and professional fighters at their bimonthly meeting on Monday night in Blaine.
The question bubbled up recently when the commission became aware of two fighters who switching between professional and amateur status when competing in different states. Late last year, one Minnesota took a professional fight in North Dakota were he was paid $300 for the fight. He then returned to Minnesota and fought twice as an amateur before the commission became aware of the fight in North Dakota.
Another fighter took part in a professional fight in Minneapolis in June and then fought in Iowa and Wisconsin as an amateur the following week.
Commission Chairman R.D. Brown said while there can be an endless debate about when a person is ready to be a professional fighter, Minnesota statute defines a professional as “any person who competes for any money prize or a prize that exceeds the value of $50,” and the law must be followed.
Many amateur MMA fighters in Minnesota have been skirting the rules to help offset their expenses by selling tickets to the events they are fighting on and keeping a portion of the proceeds. The commission has had a hard time enforcing the limitations because there has been no way to prove a fighter kept any money if they say they returned all of the money received to the promoter.
Brown said a new license application will be introduced which will clearly specify amateurs are not allowed to receive anything with a value over $49, including tickets to sell.
Commissioner Michelle Gravenish asked the commission if the $49 fee was outdated and if they should look at raising it. Many in attendance agreed and people were instructed to contact the legislature if they wanted to work toward having it amended.
Local fighter Melissa Schiro testified to the commission it was difficult for amateurs to pay for training as well as their bills without supplementing their income and selling tickets can be a part-time job for some fighters.
Brutaal promoter Nick Gamst told the commission fighters can be his best tickets sellers and it would damage his business to exclude the fighters involved with the show from helping him get the word out and promote the show.
In the end, it was repeated that the legislature would have to be the ones to make any changes to the current statute and until such a change was made, the commission would be enforcing the current rules.
As far as disciplinary action, the commission voted to reduce the suspension of MMA fighter Derek Abram from six months to 90 days, following a recommendation from the grievance committee, who heard his appeal in a meeting last month. Abram had been suspended for fighting on a show with an expired license earlier this year.
MMA fighter Shaine Emmons was suspended for six-months for fighting while under medical suspension. Emmons was knocked out in a 1:51 during a professional fight in June and was given a 60-day medical suspension by the doctor in attendance. The following week, he fought as an amateur in Iowa and was knocked out again. Then he fought in Wisconsin and was defeated quickly by TKO. Because Iowa did not regulate amateurs at the time and Wisconsin has not started regulating MMA yet, there was no one to stop him from fighting in those states.
Emmons told the commission he thought the suspension meant he could not fight in states which sanction MMA. (Iowa does sanction professional MMA but Emmons bypassed the commission by claiming to be an amateur.)
Brown read to Emmons the suspension paperwork he was given after his fight and said it stated he was not allowed to fight at all for 60 days.
Gravenish questioned if the commission had the authority to punish someone for actions taking place in another state. A discussion took place about the precedent in boxing for a six-month suspension for fighting while suspended.
Commissioner Bob Stein gave an impassioned plea to those in attendance about understanding the medical suspensions were for the good of the fighter. He said through his work with the NFL he has seen a lot of the long-term effects of concussions on his fellow former colleagues and it is important the fighters are kept safe.
“If we error in anyway, it should be in that this is something that should be enforced,” Stein said.
Brown said he felt “six-months isn’t long enough, but it will have to do.”
In the end, the commission voted 6-1 to suspend Emmons, with Gravenish voting against.
Also, office administrator Matt Schowalter reported the Department of Revenue had recently contacted the commission and was investigating the possibility of promoters not paying sales tax on tickets sold to their events.
Schowalter said the representatives from the revenue department also asked about events the commission was previously unaware had taken place and hence had not been regulated, but possibly should have been. However, they said they were prohibited from giving the commission any information about who promoted the events or when they took place.
Finally the commission once again debated the possibility of only regulating one event per weekend because the body was having a hard time getting some commissioners to attend events. The commission said they would continue to try and do multiple events on a weekend. If it needed to, the commission would start assigning commissioners to certain events instead of taking volunteers.
The commission took in $13,600 in licensing fees for fiscal year 2010 and $54,000 in event fees. They reported $88,000 for staff salaries between Executive Director Scott LeDoux and the office administrator, $14,000 in payments to inspectors for overseeing events, and $32,000 in other costs, such as rent for their office, inter-agency charges and travel by commissioners and inspectors. The commission received $80,000 in appropriation from the State, giving them a $13,600 surplus to take into 2011.
For the fiscal year 2011, the commission expects to make the Executive Director position a full-time job, raising staff salaries to $127,000, putting the commission $21,400 over budget if everything else remains the same. The commission must be self-sufficient by 2012 or it faces the possibility of being disbanded.
All commissioners were in attendance except Matt Henderson and Bob Dolan. There was no update given on the ongoing search for a new executive director.