Talkin’ MMA with the CSAC’s Armando Garcia

  • August 5th, 2008
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CALIFORNIA STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION Executive Officer Armando Garcia takes time out to answer our questions in this all-encompassing interview: How did you make the transition from being a boxing referee in Florida to heading up the California State Athletic Commission? Leading the CSAC is a lot of responsibility.

Armando Garcia: It was a natural progression for me. I have held a variety of positions in boxing and my professional career in management helped me out tremendously. It has not and continues not to be easy.

This is a 24/7 job. We’ve set a torrid pace. There have been about 500 events in California in the three years that I’ve been here. We also went through the sunsetting of the Commission, working with numerous new Commission members and dealing with a slew of operational deficiencies that would have easily shut down a non-state business. And, to boot, family separation which is quite heartbreaking.

I applied for the position and went through the state application process along with 75 other candidates. I then underwent interviews and the Commission members selected me by vote.

I’m happy to say that I have received very strong support from the state since I got here. I’m very thankful.

We just finished another banner fiscal year at over $2M in revenue and importantly, under budget.

Commission revenue the year before I took over the job was at about $441K. In my first year we went to $1.3M, the next one $1.6M and then this tremendous $2M plus year.

Hard work pays off. I’m so thankful. How has the drug testing policy changed with the CSAC in the last year? It seems as if more information is being released about test results and the specificity of the testing is more publicly known now with the steroid testing taking place at the WADA testing facility at UCLA.

Armando Garcia: Our operation values transparency. What is public record is treated as such.

Our entire drug testing, more than any Commission has ever done in the history of combatitve sports, is funded through our support budget. That means we don’t ask for or receive additional monies. Managing money is important to my administration and we are quite good at it.

We have had our minor set backs in testing, but with the great effort of Assistant Executive Officer Bill Douglas, our Program Manager, we have established the best testing program in the Nation by far. What is the exact cost of drug testing? There are so many MMA and boxing events happening these days that it seems impossible to get the financing to test all of the fighters.

Armando Garcia: It is expensive, but much needed. Use of steroids and drugs is both cheating and a possible indication of addiction and or other medical issues that are not consistent with combative sports.

Once the contract with the UCLA WADA lab is finalized the cost for a steroids test will be $125.

Presently for steroids tests, and to be absolutely sure that an adverse analytical finding (positive) is just that, we go through a detailed process. First, we send the sample to the Olympic Quest Laboratory in Atlanta. If the result is negative it is considered negative. If the result is positive the sample is transferred to the Canadian WADA lab in Montreal. Sending it to WADA Montreal costs an additional $125 per test.

For drugs of abuse we use instant kits that are 99% accurate. These kits cost $12 each and they check for twelve kinds of abused drugs. If it is negative it is negative. If it is positive it is sent to Quest Laboratory for confirmation at an additional $25 per test.

Expensive, but a must. What price tag do you put on a person’s career?

People can conjure stories or excuses trying to defend themselves from a positive drug test result in California but in the end if we say it is positive it is positive. We’d never announce a positive unless our detailed process was true. In fact, for example, if the laboratory doesn’t receive the sample in pristine manner to include the paperwork being correct it is considered a fatal flaw and the sample is discarded.

WADA is the highest standard in the world. Do you think that more fighters are staying away from performance-enhancing drugs because of the drug testing policy or are fighters finding new ways to beat the system before the system catches them?

Armando Garcia: I’d like to think that through education they are learning the perils of drug usage. They are terrible for your mind and body, but I think we have both a little staying away and a little attempt at trickery. Education takes time. The amount of MMA-related activity in the state seems to be growing every year. California is a huge state and travel is a big hindrance for regulating so many events. What kind of stress does the size of the state put on your staff and what changes have had to be made to streamline or modify CSAC management to be able to handle the workload?

Armando Garcia: Good management and staffing techniques is critical to our success. The whole thing is quite stressful on everyone.

We have a detailed event preparation process that deals with numerous medical examinations. It is very time consuming.

Morale has remained high though. Everyone loves being on a winning team. Humbly speaking, we’re not perfect, but we are the best if you consider the size of the state, the number of events, where we’ve come from, our regulations and laws, etc. Quinton Jackson, who is a high-profile MMA fighter, has undergone psychiatric evaluation for potential mental health issues. What is the protocol in the state of California right now for testing fighters in terms of both their physical and mental health, and are there any suggestions you might have to change the way testing is done in the future to address possible problems that arise?

Armando Garcia: Although we have a neurological examination it does not address potential mental health or psychiatric issues that may result from participating in combative sports.

We are reviewing the present neurological examination and I hope that it is changed for something that better clearly identifies cognitive impairment. There seems to be some controversy and confusion regarding strikes to the back of the head and what exactly the ‘zone’ is for a legal blow as opposed to an illegal blow. For the casual MMA fan out there, can you explain what the current rules in regards to this situation?

Armando Garcia: That is easy. The same as boxing. From the back of one ear to the back of the other ear. I’m in complete opposition to the ‘mohawk’ concept for back of the head fouls. Our Physicians support our position.

Illegal blows to the head are devastating. Ask Gerald McClelland. What do you think about the 10-point must system being used to score MMA fights? Should there be a change in the scoring system more towards a PRIDE-style system where a judge picks a winner after three rounds as opposed to individually scoring each round?

Armando Garcia: We’ve beat the whole scoring system up pretty badly in both boxing and MMA. I think what we need is consistently competent judging not so much a new or modified scoring system.

With that said, we should move to address the differences of a 10-9 to a 10-8 round. We’re dealing with shorter fights in MMA. There’s both sides, a 10-8 is huge in a short fight while the differences in 10-9 rounds (routines to close to dominant) are more visible.

I like our system as opposed to the old PRIDE system. How would you compare the CSAC’s media relations with MMA media members in comparison to boxing media members? Which media sector is it easier to communicate the kind of message you want to get through? It seems as if various members of the boxing media have been hostile towards you and the way business is being handled in California.

Armando Garcia: We value our relationship with the media tremendously. We have a huge mailing list and virtually everyone in the state has my cell phone number. Our thinking is that the relationship must stem from professionalism and of course, truth. We are more transparent than anyone and I think the media enjoys it.

The MMA media is much more active than the boxing media I think. I love their passion. The down side of the internet is that there is a bit too much disinformation all the way around.

I have a different view in looking at it than just stating that some boxing media have been hostile to me. Overall they’ve been fabulous. Most of them have many years of experience and know of me.

Everyone knows the story. What you’ve had are a couple of people who favor a very small group of other people in California who perceive they are out of power or something and for whatever reason try to use their position to slant facts to their favor. The isolated cases are much more personal than business. One must question their real love for the Commission and the sports we regulate.

The interesting thing is that one of those things started like this interview when an internet writer called me for an interview. This was in May 2006. His initial concern seemed to be that Mexican-American boxers were wearing patches or showing placards about an immigration bill that was in the news at that time, how could I allow it, etc. From there we began talking about my job and it moved on to a supposed article that was to be written about me, my position, etc. I spent about two hours speaking to this individual on two occasions and discussed many things to include quite personal struggles of my family in Cuba and when we came to the USA. The final product was a perfect example of yellow journalism. Some really terrible deceit there.

At the end of the day though there is always the bottom line. I’m a state employee, not a boxing or mma guy and I work hard at doing what I’m supposed to be doing all of the time.

Things that I’ve already mentioned, the anti-doping program, the Inspector program, how we’ve handled inherited operational deficiencies, creating small businesses with about 20 new promoters who consistently promote, etc. while effectively supervising over 500 events in three years time in a huge state are the things that one should judge an athletic commission administrator like myself.

We’ve had more informational and Commission meetings than ever in our history. We’ve brought back fairness and an equal playing field to California while frankly, simply doing our job. Respectfully and humbly, the work product surpasses anything and everything before it in California. What are some of the major political challenges that the CSAC faces both internally and politically in the state in terms of funding, medical testing, etc.?

Armando Garcia: We just finished a banner year. If we keep the present funding and spending we will continue to shine. More likely than not that is what will happen as we move forward.

The top promoters in the world have come to California more times than ever. We also have a strong club level group of promoters who work very hard and help us to distinguish ourselves.

We have some very exciting things coming our way. Amateur mixed martial arts, full muay thai kickboxing, multiple sports events in the same competition enclosure, an expanded drug awareness effort, really exciting things for fans and athletes.

Thanks for allowing me this time.

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