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By Reginald Barnett, Jr.
Some much-needed change is finally coming to the entire Virginia MMA community. The first time I entered the cage, it was under unified rules. At the time I had no idea there were any differences in mixed martial arts rules, let alone anything about sanctioning. I just showed up to fight, unaware of the inherent risk and potential dangers of competing in amateur MMA in VA.
Amateur mixed martial arts, in the state of Virginia, is subject to the same combat rules as its professional counterparts, i.e. scoring, judging, legal strikes. Technically, as an amateur, I fought the same way the guys got paid to do in the UFC and didn’t make a dime. On the other hand, some state's rules are varied in order to protect their amateur fighters. For example, some states implement the use of shin guards, do not allow knees/elbows, disallow head kicks, etc. If we refer to rules of combat, there is no distinct variation between professional and amateur mixed martial arts athletes in Virginia. We here in what some have called the “Wild West” of MMA have been fighting “UFC” style from the first bell.
In the new state mandates, it is vague on if the rules of engagement will change for amateur competition, only stating it will be left to the discretion of the Amateur Sanctioning Organization (ASO), yet is still something to be considered.
There has never been a standard comparison for their health risk versus evaluations of both professional and amateur athletes. Professional athletes have been required to submit blood screens for communicable diseases, mandatory suspensions, and medical examinations i.e. CT Scan; MRI, EKG however; even with the same risk of exposure some current amateur sanctioning bodies do not require blood testing and/or medical evaluations other than a general physical pre and post-fight to compete. Now it will at least be mandatory for all fighters to be blood tested. Having exchanged fluids a few times during combat myself, it is almost like playing Russian roulette with your career. We all like to think every athlete is clean, but you never know. As far as other medical evaluations, MMA is a dangerous sport and even if a new ASO does not mandate these for amateur fighters, it is my personal recommendation to have certain evaluations performed for a fighter’s personal health and safety.
Furthermore, since there has been no state recognized sanctioning, the majority of my fights and many other Virginia amateur mixed martial artists are not recognized or upheld by other States. The fights here in Virginia are recorded as NSF (Non-Sanctioned Fights), which can be a major roadblock for some fighters attempting to turn professional or fight out of state. I was required to travel out of state, to North Carolina, and compete in a “Sanctioned” event, before I could fight for an amateur title in another State. This will no longer be a problem with a legitimized Amateur Sanctioning Organization, not only will the fighters receive the recognition they deserve but mixed martial arts in Virginia will also gain some credibility within the mixed martial arts national community.
Even now as a fledgling professional, from a fighter’s perspective, these changes are a positive benefit for the amateur fighter. While there is still no definitive outline for rule or medical evaluation changes, blood testing and an established ASO are a progressive step in the right direction. For me, the fighter’s health and safety are always the most important aspects of MMA competition. Amateur competition is supposed to be a gateway; it is not only the State, but also our entire MMA community’s responsibility to provide the proper support for the amateur fighters in Virginia.