By Charles Jay
It may be the mistaken impression on the part of some people that the UFC invented the rules that are in place for mixed martial arts competition today, and therefore supplied the missing ingredient that brought about much more mainstream acceptance of MMA. Such is not completely the case, although it could be said that in terms of implementing a new set of regulations, the UFC has perhaps done the most to promote it as a selling tool with the public.
The truth is, a set of “unified” rules was already in place, and had been for quite a while before Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, along with Dana White, took over the UFC from Bob Meyrowitz.
Meyrowitz, representing the “old” UFC, had gotten the sport sanctioned in New Jersey, Louisiana, Iowa and California while he was in charge.
Starting in September of 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, under the leadership of executive director Larry Hazzard, began to sanction mixed martial arts contests subject to a review of the rules the events would be conducted by, along with adherence to the state’s medical testing procedures and safety requirements. The first organization that was sanctioned in New Jersey was the International Fighting Council (IFC), which held an event in Atlantic City on September 30, 2000. A couple of months later (November 17), Meyrowitz brought the UFC to Atlantic City (for UFC 28).
On April 3, 2001, a summit meeting of sorts was held at the NJSACB offices in Trenton, arranged by Hazzard, who could see that the sport of MMA was viable, but disorganized from the standpoint of rules uniformity. At this meeting was an eclectic collection of people interested in mixed martial arts, including other state regulators and MMA promoters. The meeting lasted more than three hours and at its conclusion, a uniform set of rules for mixed martial arts had been decided upon.
The highlights of these rules included the establishment of a number of weight divisions, from flyweight up to super heavyweight; time limits on bouts, standards by which to judge and stop contests, the elimination of certain blows, and medical testing of the participants that was no different than what they had to submit to in professional boxing. The genesis of the idea of a firm set of rules could be traced back to Quebec’s athletic commission. After that, California had developed a similar set of rules, but budgetary constraints prevented them from being implemented.
New Jersey, with Hazzard, was the first to step up and take a real leadership position on the issue. It was Hazzard who, a few years earlier, had devised standardized rules for governing boxing matches that were adopted by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) and have become more or less uniform across the United States.
The MMA unified rules have opened the door for promotions like the UFC to move past the vilification that it had previously gotten from the mainstream media and made it possible for jurisdictions around the country to consider sanctioning and regulation of MMA, which is one of the keys to its development as the predominant combat sport.