CHEYENNE — Wyoming will soon be the only state in the nation with a state-run mixed martial arts board, under legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Matt Mead.
It’s hoped that creating a regulatory body to oversee and regulate the fast-growing sport will lure in big-name professional MMA fights, improve safety, and chase out shady event promoters.
But some event organizers and fighters worry that such a move would devastate MMA fights in Wyoming, as already-suffering promoters would have to pay an additional fee.
Mixed martial arts allows a wide range of fighting techniques including striking, kicking and grappling. One of the fastest-growing sports in the world, the largest fights bring in thousands of spectators and millions of dollars in revenue from television and pay-per-view.
Until now, Wyoming has been one of six states that have no regulatory body for mixed martial arts. But promoters and fighters estimate about 20 events are held in Wyoming annually, most of which draw crowds of several hundred people.
State Rep. Bryan Pedersen, the Cheyenne Republican who introduced the legislation this year, said he’s talked with MMA fighters in Cheyenne who complain that because Wyoming doesn’t regulate mixed martial arts, fights that they hold in the state don’t count toward their nationwide professional record.
MMA promoters and fighters in the state estimated that about half the fighters in Wyoming events live in the state.
State lawmakers have tried five times in the past decade to resurrect the office of the state boxing commissioner, who would oversee MMA. Opposition from the boxing industry KO’d those efforts.
But Pedersen successfully skirted those problems this year by having his legislation focus only on MMA.
Jerry Davis, a Cheyenne MMA trainer, said MMA regulations are sorely needed in Wyoming. Unlike other, regulated states, Davis said, fighters don’t need to test for diseases like HIV and promoters don’t have to provide insurance for the fighters, who sooner or later will get injured in a fight.
“It would make sure that some of these individuals in the past who were, for lack of a better term, shady wouldn’t be in this industry and giving it a bad name and causing harm to those individuals who are fighting,” he said in an interview last month.
And regulation could bring in higher-profile events as well. While the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s largest MMA promotion company, held UFC6 in Casper in 1995, the current owners don’t hold fights in states where MMA isn’t regulated.
Pedersen said UFC officials have told him in emails that they would look at holding events in Wyoming. UFC fights in Colorado draw a lot of people from Wyoming, Pedersen said, and a fight held in southeastern Wyoming would lure in fans from northern Colorado as well.
Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, previously said that his company would be interested in holding a fight in Wyoming if a regulatory system was set up.
“We’re not going to bring a major pay-per-view there, but we can certainly do a smaller event,” he said.
Once the legislation takes effect on July 1, Mead will appoint three members to the state MMA board, Pedersen said.
Pedersen said the board will then immediately start setting the groundwork for new rules and regulations, including working with other state-run boards such as the Colorado Boxing Commission to see how they operate.
The MMA board will be paid for by taking 5 percent of the gross receipts from each MMA fight in the state. Some fight organizers said that could lead some promoters in the state to stop holding events.
Stephen Alley, an MMA promoter who has held fights in Casper since 2006, said attendance at those fights has declined in recent years to the point that an additional fee would be devastating.
“If they bring in a commission, most of the people that you see operating right now, they won’t be around,” he said.