Saturday night, an amateur fighter had a medical emergency in the middle of the ring between rounds of his first amateur fight.
Professional fighters said stepping into a cage and going toe to toe with another person looking to knock you out is not for the untrained or unprepared.
At a professional level, the details of a fight are managed to protect the health of the fighters. Weight classes, skill levels, overall health and fitness are all looked at before the two athletes are allowed to compete.
At the amateur level, at least in Missouri, pros say regulations meant to keep fighters safe are lax at best.
Fifteen-year veteran Tara LaRosa said it’s the wild west.
Unlike New Jersey, where LaRosa is from, the state of Missouri does not sanction fights. They approve independent sanctioning bodies to do that instead.
LaRosa said that creates a dangerous situation for amateurs, especially those who are too eager to get in the cage and need to be protected from themselves.
Jayson Cooper, the founder and owner of Spire MMA Sanctioning, said there are about 18 sanctioning bodies in Missouri.
For 10 years, he has worked with some of them, and he said he took issue with how many of them did things.
“Some would forget to enforce rules for particular promoters, others would just turn their backs and, you know, close their eyes where certain things happened because they were just there for money,” said Cooper.
He also said his operation is the only one in the state requiring amateurs to get blood-work done. This helps identify fighters who may have Hepatitis-C and HIV. This is not an explicitly stated requirement from the state.
According to a statement from the Missouri’s Office of Athletics, sanctioning bodies “must comply with 20 CSR 2040-3.030 (C) 1. which ensure that bouts do not unreasonably endanger the health of competitors by requiring pre-bout physicals, excluding the medically unfit from competition, requiring the attendance of physicians at ringside.”
Cooper says, he has attended sanctioned events where physicians and ambulances were not on site.
Saturday night, the 33-year-old rookie stepped into the ring, he was carried out on a stretcher after suffering a cardiac arrest between rounds. LaRosa was there and doesn’t think he should have been in the ring in the first place.
“This scares the hell out of me, because somebodies going to get hurt, as we may have seen,” said LaRosa. “We need more regulation and it needs to be taken over by the state.”
As of Monday, the fighter was in stable condition in the ICU at the hospital awaiting the results of a few tests. If they come back favorably, he may be released in the next few days.
As a professional, LaRosa must undergo a number of physicals, an eye exam, get bloodwork done, and have her head checked before she gets into the cage.
Because she is over 35-years-old, she has to get an MRI or CT Scan annually, depending on which state in which she is fighting. Fighters under 35 must get them every 3 years.
Because of the cost, the health of many amateur fighters is not tracked as closely, and neither is drug use.
The restrictions in place for professional fighters when it comes to event security are drastically different as well.
Once a professional checks-in, no one but their team of trainers can get near them. At the amateur level, often family and friends wander unchecked backstage at fights.
In most cases, professionals can’t bring food or drink into their preparation rooms. The same is not done for amateurs, and you never know if your opponent has ingested something that will put you or them at risk during a fight, such as a narcotic.
Ultimately, both Cooper and LaRosa want to see Missouri take over sanctioning duties from the independent agencies currently doing the work.
They say it will streamline rules, of which there are multiple variations across the state, and raise the quality of safety for amateurs.