Bill Would Make Mixed Martial Arts a Legally Sanctioned Sport in Md.

By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (March 5, 2008) - Mixed martial arts, a no-holds-barred sport that proponents argue is safer than boxing and football, would be legally sanctioned in Maryland under a bill that came before the House Economic Matters Committee Wednesday.

Made popular by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, mixed martial arts is a form of fighting that draws from martial arts, wrestling, boxing and kick-boxing. Fighters compete barefoot, wearing only mouth guards, groin protection and gloves.

"On the surface, it looks more dangerous," said Delegate Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, who introduced the bill. "But if you look at the numbers, and look at the actual sport, you'll see that it's not."

No one testified against the bill, but committee members, including Delegate David Rudolph, D-Cecil, questioned the safety of mixed martial arts and wondered if it should even be classified as a sport.

In response, John Rallo, who owns a Baltimore mixed martial arts academy and has fought in competitions, cited a Johns Hopkins University study showing that injury rates are no higher than in sports like boxing.

Rallo attributed the study's findings to the structure of mixed martial arts events.

"In boxing, the ultimate goal is to knock your opponent unconscious," he said. But the point of mixed martial arts fights is to force your opponent to surrender.

"A fighter can submit verbally or by tapping the floor or one's opponent with your hand several times,'' Rallo said. ``More than a third of [mixed martial arts] contests are ended by submission."

Reznik agreed, and said that "tapping out" of a fight is not seen as a sign of weakness.

"If you're in a submission hold, and the choice is either have your arm broken or tap out ? if you're a professional fighter, there's no question," Reznik said. "It's not seen as emasculating."

He also said the gloves worn by mixed martial arts fighters are less likely than boxing gloves to hurt their opponents, and that the fights are much shorter than normal boxing matches.

Proponents cited the sport's possible business-building power. Rallo told the committee that after a recent match in Delaware, his studio received numerous calls from people wanting to enroll in classes.

Mixed martial arts is currently sanctioned in 28 states, including Virginia, according to the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization.

After the hearing, Reznik seemed unfazed by the committee's concerns.

"I wasn't surprised," he said. "A lot of people really don't know what it is yet."

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