It Was a Bumpy Road to Legalization for MMA in the Golden State, but It's Finally Here
It's a new era for MMA in California. For years, Californians have had to visit an Indian reservation to watch MMA in their Golden State. Not anymore.
The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) sanctioned the sport in December 2005, and one of the first sanctioned events took place in March, with Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie in the main event. Armando Garcia, executive officer at the CSAC, said that the commission expected to approve and supervise approximately 40 MMA events in 2006.
Garcia cited health and safety, as well as "consumer integrity," as the primary reasons why the CSAC decided to sanction MMA.
"There were a tremendous number of illegal events held in different locations that we had no control over and no say if, for example, a person is suitable for that kind of sport," he said. "[There were considerations such as], 'Has the fighter undergone any medical examination?' 'Was there a doctor there?' 'Were there competent officials?' 'Were there ambulances on the scene?' It was obvious to me and everybody else that health and safety were compromised by not regulating the sport."
"The second thing running close to the first is consumer integrity," he said. "[We asked], 'Who are these fighters?' 'What championships are they supposedly representing?' 'How are they [the promoters] selling them to the public?' "
The tremendous public demand for MMA also played a factor, according to Garcia.
In the beginning, at least, events in California will mirror the UFC in terms of rules. The CSAC rejected a number of rules that are standard in Pride, namely:
- Use of a ring
- A 10-minute first round
- Soccer kicks to the head of a downed opponent
- Knees to the head of a downed opponent
- Foot stomps
- Use of wrestling shoes or a gi
But a change in the rules could happen as early as March 2006 (this story went to press before the hearing) when the CSAC is expected to approve the use of a ring for MMA. Garcia said at first he had health and safety concerns about the ring. After "educating" himself, he came to a different conclusion.
"I talked to a lot of veteran people in the sport, so I got past my concerns as far as health and safety in the ring," said Garcia. "Immediately after the rules were adopted [December 2005], I contacted people. I did my research, and I drafted what I consider to be the best minimum requirements for a ring in martial arts. And I think that those requirements are going to set the standard in the sport, and I'm really confident that they're going to be approved."
Bas Rutten campaigned on behalf of Pride, attending several of the commission's meetings. The legendary fighter-turned-commentator felt that the safety issue was overstated.
"All the stuff that's made up about the cage being for the safety of the fighter ... everybody knows that that's not the truth," he said. "[All you need is] a special ring with a low rope and the top rope a little higher. Plus, two vertical ropes in the middle, and nothing can happen in that ring."
Yukino Kanda, executive vice-president at Dream Stage Entertainment (Pride's parent company), welcomed the CSAC's shift in attitude toward the ring.
"We are happy if we can move forward with adopting the ring in California," she said. "We're excited about it because we think it should have been adopted from the very beginning."
Pride has long had California in its sights, according to Kanda, but the company will not make definite plans until the ring is approved.
The road to legalization was bumpy, to say the least. Advocates had been trying to get MMA sanctioned for years. For a sport to be legalized in California, it has to go through a rigorous process, passing through three stages.
First, the seven-member CSAC has to approve the sport's rules. Then the rules are sent to the director of consumer affairs for approval. If they meet no resistance there, the rules are finally sent to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). If the OAL consents, then the rules are officially recognized as legal and effective in California.
At any stage, the sanctioning process can stall if one of the approval bodies has a concern about the rules. That body can send the rules back down to a lower body for re-working.
Garcia admitted that the rules adopted in December 2005 needed work. The CSAC first intends to tackle the cage/ring issue. Then it will move on to other rules that require tweaking. Garcia would not reveal what those rules might be.
Rule changes can be proposed at any time, but Garcia doesn't see the CSAC adopting any of Pride's more controversial rules in the near future.
Referring to Pride's allowance of knee strikes to the head of a downed opponent, he said: "It's a bit barbaric in a sport that some people absolutely detest. People look at it as human cockfighting. Now you're going to add that [knees to the head]. When that happens, it usually happens when the person is already semi-unconscious. The blows come so fast. There's a lot of other ways for the athletes to demonstrate their skills. We don't need to add that, I don't think."
2006 and Beyond
Rutten was enthusiastic about the sport's future in California.
"I see it skyrocketing," he said. "It's going to go real fast. People are starting to understand the game. They're starting to understand what an armbar is, what a choke is, what a leglock is. How to take a certain person down."
Both Pride and the UFC lobbied long and hard to get their brand of MMA sanctioned in California.
"There was a lot of politics outside of our commission and a lot of jockeying for position," said Garcia.
Rutten saw the brewing competition between the two organizations as a positive thing.
"It makes the sport grow," he said. "It's better for everybody. You get better paydays and more people are going to watch."
For all the excitement swirling around MMA, Garcia didn't see a shift in power coming in the combat sports just yet. Boxing is still king in California; the CSAC sanctioned more than 120 events just last year, more than double the number of any other state. Nevertheless, Garcia believed that the projected 40 MMA events in 2006 should be seen as a significant number.
As MMA joins the menu of sporting events in 2006, staffing may prove a challenge.
"By having so many shows-I have already been pushing 50 by the end of April-I don't know if I'm going to have immediate staff to properly staff those events," said Garcia. "If we cannot approve every show, they'll have to go to an Indian casino or they won't be able to have them."
The Author: Eddie Malone is a freelance writer and grappler who lives in Southern California.
29 and Growing
The International Sport Combat Federation (ISCF)-which describes itself as a "neutral, non-promoting sanctioning body for mixed martial arts"-lists as many as 29 American states in which professional MMA events are now considered legal. This represents a marked difference from the 1990s when critics of the sport, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), succeeded in banning MMA in most American states.
The Full Set
A full set of CSAC rules for MMA can be viewed online at the following URL: www.dca.ca.gov/csac/rules/mma_adoption_regs.pdf.
Notes and Quotes
- "We are pleased to announce that, after years of waiting, the UFC is finally coming to California. We are looking forward to making our official debut with UFC 59 at the Arrowhead Pond, an event that brings one of our best light heavyweight fighters, Tito Ortiz, back into the Octagon, and against one of our most popular UFC fighters: Forrest Griffin." -Dana White, UFC president
- Tito Ortiz last fought in the Octagon at UFC 51 (February 5, 2005) when he defeated Vitor Belfort by a three-round split decision. In UFC 59, Ortiz will face Forrest Griffin.
- "I'll be in my hometown in Orange County, there will be 18,000 Tito Ortiz fans screaming their heads off and I've got to give them what they've paid for. But I can't look past Forrest; he's tough. I'm just gonna try to buzz saw through him and get ready for my next match." -Tito Ortiz
- Forrest Griffin (12-2-0) fighting out of Las Vegas, Nevada, was "The Ultimate Fighter Season 1" finale light heavyweight winner. He fought an epic battle with Stephan Bonnar. After three grueling rounds of nonstop action, Griffin was declared the winner by unanimous decision.
- In his first UFC Pay-Per-View bout, Griffin submitted Bill Mahood at UFC 53: Heavy Hitters. In his second UFC fight, he defeated Elvis Sinosic by KO in the first round.
- "I'm going to learn how to become an Olympic-style wrestler before April 15, so don't be surprised if we both get a little banged up. But, in all honesty, I am very excited for the opportunity to fight Tito; it's an honor to fight someone of his caliber." -Forrest Griffin
-Courtesy of the UFC
The 5 W's
Who: The Ultimate Fighting Championship
What: UFC 59: Reality Check
Where: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim
When: April 15
Why: To see who is the baddest!
Who Is Bad?
By Doug Jeffrey
For years, there have been MMA events on Indian reservations in California, but the UFC is one of the first MMA organizations to hold an event in the Golden State since the California Athletic Commission sanctioned the sport. UFC 59 is set for April 15.
One of their most popular fighters, Tito Ortiz, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," is scheduled to fight Forrest Griffin. In the following interview, the 31-year-old bad boy, who is 6 feet 2 and 205, talks about a variety of things that might surprise you.
Q: Tell us your record and where you train.
A: My MMA record is 19-4, and I'm working out at the Huntington Beach Training Center [in Huntington Beach, California] with Tiki Goshen.
Q: You're not just a fighter. Tell us what else you have been doing.
A: I've been in some films, including "Valley of the Wolves" with Billy Zane, "Dog Problem," "Cradle to the Grave" and "Wicked Prayers."
Q: Is acting or fighting tougher?
A: Acting is hard work, and it is not as easy as it looks. You've got to say the lines and try to be as normal as possible. I do not want to be like some fighters who are still fighting when they are in their 40s. I want to use my capabilities to their fullest. This [acting] is the way to go.
Q: Give us an overview of your training.
A: From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., I'll box and kickbox. After a two-hour break, I'll wrestle and do jiu-jitsu. This normally lasts until 8:30. I'll also do a 3-mile run and hit the weights for about an hour. When I lift, I do high repetitions for endurance and stamina. I do this routine six days a week.
Q: Despite potential distractions, you're staying focused.
A: Yeah, I look for seclusion. I get away from the city, the nightlife and the parties. When I'm in Huntington Beach, my friends may want to go to a strip club or a party. When I am secluded, I can stay away from that. I want to compete, and my idea or goal is to become the world champion and get that title back. I am going to put in my time and prepare for the worst, which is when the best always happens.
Q: Your son plays an integral role in your focus.
A: I'm taking it [MMA] as a business, and I am trying to get lucrative deals. I want to give my son the life that I did not have as a kid. I have been in survival mode since the age of 6, and I spent some time on the streets. I want to make sure he has as much money as possible so he can go to college and not have to worry about getting a car. The most important thing is for him to have the things that I did not. I never had a chance to live as a young kid. I have been a grown-up my whole life. I have had a hard life. I was in and out of gangs and juvenile hall. I even had some friends who were shot and killed when I was 13. I want to live life to its fullest and be as successful as possible. I want to give back to the Tito Ortiz Foundation, which is for troubled youth. So I have come a long way, and I'm a success story. I have cried a lot, but I have a sense of joy.
Q: You're a fighter, but you're way more than that.
A: As an Aquarius, I'm passionate, dedicated, motivated and I care about others around me. Who you surround yourself with is what you become, and I am trying to surround myself with good people and friends. I am a giver, and I care more about those around me than I care about myself.
Q: You have a clothing line, and it's so cool that your ex-wife is your partner.
A: It's a clothing company called Punishment Athletics. She works real hard, and we're going to make it No. 1. We're going to build it, so it will be recognized.