From its early start as little more than human dogfights, mixed martial arts has developed into a respectable sport. In fact, MMA is the fastest growing sport in the country, making millions of dollars with its pay-per-view fights and colorful personalities.
Like every successful business, MMA must now face its next opponent: federal regulators.
National Review’s John Fund notes that trial lawyers, unions, and even the odd politician who fought MMA are backing new regulations that would put the government in the driver’s seat on mixed martial arts and its future:
Congress is right in the middle of debating tax reform. Obamacare desperately needs legislative action. U.S. interests are threatened in unprecedented ways by weapons programs in Iran and North Korea.
And this coming week, the U.S. House will hold its second hearing in less than a year on a bill to put mixed martial arts under federal supervision and control.
What is wrong with this picture?
He has a point.
Former part-time MMA combatant turned congressman Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma believes that fighters are underpaid — something that some fighters tend to agree with — and that they should form a union. He also believes that federal bureaucrats should determine what Connor McGregor’s next fight should be.
Mullin’s past as an MMA fighter will no doubt add gravitas to his arguments, and his 3-0 record in the cage may do so as well. After all, why quit when you’re undefeated and at the beginning of your career unless it’s about money?
However, all athletes at the lower end of the professional spectrum make very little money. Players in the arena leagues aren’t exactly pulling in Tom Brady money, and when the developmental AF2 league was still around, most of the players had to have second jobs so they could pay their bills.
Low pay is nothing new in sports. But for Mullin and others who support federal regulation, money is only part of the issue.
As Fund points out, the basis for the argument stems from legislation that regulated boxing long ago. However, he also notes that boxing had a troubled legacy at that point, something MMA doesn’t have:
But boxing had a long history of both injury to fighters and a sketchy ethical record that included rigged bouts. There’s no evidence of significant corruption in MMA matches, and its fighters are regulated by state boxing commissions that enforce health and safety issues for both boxing and MMA.
Further, he argues that the UFC, the most popular MMA circuit, has done a lot of work with state commissions to keep things safe and on the up-and-up.
With that in mind, the last thing the sport needs is government intrusion, especially from Mullin — a supposed Republican.