Amateur MMA finally has someone who truly cares about it. His name is Don Clift and he is the driving force behind one of the biggest attempts to organize and track it – KICK International. Behind the scenes is a network that administers, governs and regulates many of the various aspects of martial arts and kickboxing in the United States. This organization is comprised of athletes, officials, coaches, administrators, medical personnel and enthusiasts.
I recently asked Don to give his thoughts on amateur MMA. He was more than enthusiastic in his response.
“Amateur MMA has made extraordinary improvements just in the last 13 years that I have been involved in the sport”, Don said. “I began before regulations were in place and continue to see the sport evolve today into one of the fasting growing sports in the world today. One of the reasons for this I believe is what all the athletes come to understand. A punch is a punch and a kick is a kick no matter what language you speak. This creates an atmosphere where it is evolving into a worldwide sport”.
Don also agreed that the level of overall protection for and safety of fighters was lacking. Brain injuries are the foremost concern for most, if not all athletic commissions. Clift addressed this issue and how KICK is involved.
“An important factor in this sport is the safety aspect. This includes the protection required by the participants. We have learned through martial arts tournaments that males should wear groin protection and all participants are required to wear mouth guards. But we fall short of this requirement when we only protect the upper half of the mouth. It is not the teeth that we are trying to protect. It is the impact of the jaw being forced upwards creating a shock into the brain. Bi molar mouth guards help to provide cushion to help absorb the impact and cause less stress on the brain”.
Hand injuries are one of the most common injuries in the sport, which is no surprise since most fights contain a heavy amount of striking. Don believes that this should receive just as much attention and that more fighters need to be aware of the importance of protecting their hands.
“Another safety factor is the wrapping of the hands. The wraps are not meant to protect your opponent from injury. They are to provide protection to the metacarpals (hand bones) from fractures. Boxing wraps are different than MMA wraps due to the difference in the gloves worn. In Indiana, the amateurs are required to use 6 ounce gloves for competition. That is not much material compared to boxing gloves and therefore requires a different kind of wrapping”.
Great strides have been made in matchmaking, Indiana has gone above and beyond.
“Indiana has also recognized a suggestion from the 2011 ABC convention in which two divisions were created for amateurs”, Clift said. “These are known as the Novice and Advanced divisions. What this means is a fighter who has less than three sanctioned fights starts in the Novice division and a fighter with three or more fights is considered Advanced. One difference between the two is a novice fighter cannot strike to the face of a grounded opponent. I believe this is due to the fact that some fighters making their amateur MMA debut may not have experienced being struck in the face while down and find it too late to have played golf that day instead. Once a fighter has competed in three fights, they know what to expect and can therefore train for the additional blows. It is very similar to the restrictions put on amateurs versus professional fighters, such as the use of elbows, and for the same reasons. There are exceptions made to this rule by the Indiana Athletic Division and that is if a licensed sanctioning body can show proof that a fighter has been fighting with the advanced techniques in other states for instance that do not recognize the Novice and Advanced divisions, with a written request, the IAC may grant a waiver to place the fighter in the Advanced division before they complete their required three fights. This is done on a case by case basis”.
In part 1 of this series the lack of medical staff at amateur MMA events pre-commission days was an issue. Clift has seen drastic improvements since then.
“I have been a witness over the years to instances where injuries could have been prevented had these requirements been in place. Many had EMT staff at their events but they lack the knowledge to properly assess a competitor’s state of health beyond the checking of vital signs (BP, pulse, etc.) They are trained to stabilize and transport and not assess physical health or well being. Now, a doctor as well as EMT staff, with at least one being ALS certified, is required to be cage side while the bouts are taking place. Blood tests are also required within a year of the event showing negative results for HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Many labs have become familiar with these testing requirements due to the popularity of the sport and simply call the three tests a ‘Combative Trio’”.
The matter of insurance has also come a long way according to Don.
“Insurance is a big part of the requirements for all sanctioned events. In Indiana, all events must carry a minimum of $5,000 of accidental death and $5,000 of medical coverage. This is low compared to surrounding states such as Illinois that requires $25,000 for each. A simple fracture can start at around $6,000 and go up from there. Something important to note here is that if a fighter has primary insurance from their employer or other source, it must be used first before the promoters’ policies are used. It is considered a form of insurance fraud to not disclose that you have primary insurance coverage if you have it when being treated in a medical facility for injuries sustained at an MMA event. Another important point here is the lack of coverage for officials hired to work the events”.
There are unique circumstances where the stipulations are different.
“In the policies for such events, MMA officials are considered independent contractors and are therefore excluded”, Clift stated. “The reason for this status is that the commissions do not employ these officials for regular employment on a payroll and only hire on a per event basis. This makes them independent contractors and wide open to potential lawsuits. I have personally addressed this situation within the organization in which I provide sanctioning duties and that is to require all officials become members of the sanctioning organization. KICK International is a 501 3c non-profit organization whereas most sanctioning bodies are licensed as LLC, sole proprietors, or sub S corporations. These organizations are “for profit” and therefore cannot protect the officials from harm. This is a little unknown factor that in my opinion needs serious attention”.
With MMA gyms popping up all over the country and access to proper training has increased, the level of competition has risen significantly.
“The quality of today’s fighters is much better than years ago. The evolution has been fascinating to watch as the fighters have come to learn that it is much more than a brawl”, Don said. “They have to learn several martial art disciplines in order to remain competitive. These disciplines include Boxing, BJJ, Wrestling, Muay Thai, and we have also found it beneficial to have some form of traditional martial arts. If a fighter is not well trained in these areas, weaknesses can be exposed by their opponents and may result in them taking second place”.
Clift finished with his thoughts on amateur MMA’s current direction.
“The future of amateur MMA is anyone’s guess but I was asked this question a few years ago during an interview for an international newspaper and my response was that eventually, MMA would expand outside of PPV events. I said it would become more main stream in the network television outlets. In fact, I said that very soon a person could turn on the television and on any given day be able to see an MMA event. Today, several cable channels do that very thing and some network television outlets have attempted to wade into the market. What we need now is sponsors to come out and embrace the sport and eventually the sport will grow to become bigger than American football”.
6th Degree Black Belt
Sanctioning Rep for KICK International
7 time Inductee into the Hall of Fame