It is a not so well kept secret that performance enhancing drug testing is all but non-existent in amateur mixed martial arts competitions.  While addressing doping at the elite professional level is important, it is equally valuable to weed out a culture of cheating at the entry level to meaningfully address a potentially dangerous problem.

To this end the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, a body looking to become a worldwide governing body for the growth and development of the sport, have announced their anti-doping policy.  In short the IMMAF have adopted WADA prohibited list and will start enforcing this anti doping program in May, 2015 for events associated with them.

These standards will be in force for the 2015 IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA scheduled to take place in July in Las Vegas.

I inquired whether the IMMAF actually intends to follow through with testing and how the program will be funded.  They, along with an IMMAF board member from the UK responded as follows:

IMMAF Anti Doping Policy Tweets

In the latest addition to this site’s archived cases addressing Pay Per View Piracy, reasons for judgement were released this month ordering a Defendant to pay just over $14,500 in damages and costs following the commercial piracy of UFC 150.

In the recent case (Joe Hand Promotions , Inc v. KJ’s Wings and Ale, LLC) the Defendant operated a commercial establishment and displayed UFC 150 without paying the licence fee to the Plaintiff allowing them to do so.  The Plaintiff sued for damages and obtained default judgement with statutory damages of $3,750, enhanced damages of $7,500 plus costs and attorney fees for a total judgement of $14,583.75.  In reaching this assessment District Judge Michelle Childs provided the following reasons:

According to the record, Plaintiff had the exclusive nationwide commercial television distribution rights to “Ultimate Fighting Championship 150: Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar” (the “Program”). (ECF No. 1 at 3.) The minimum rate charged by Plaintiff for the right to show the Program was seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00). (ECF No. 11-3.)

Plaintiff’s private investigator (“PI”) entered Scooter’s Lounge (“Scooter’s”), located 1631 JA Cochran Boulevard, Chester, SC, on August 11, 2012, at approximately 9:51 p.m. (ECF No. 11-4 at 1.) The PI did not pay a cover charge to enter the establishment. (Id.) While in Scooter’s, the PI observed five televisions displaying one of the fights on the card for the Program. (Id.) There were between seven and twelve patrons in Scooter’s during the PI’s investigation. (Id. at 3.) The PI left Scooter’s at approximately 11:40 p.m. (Id.)..

Given that there were no more than twelve patrons in the establishment during the airing of the Program, an award based upon the number of people in the establishment would not provide a sufficient deterrent from future violations by Defendants. However, the court finds that an award of five times the license fee Defendants should have paid, coupled with enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees and costs, will provide a sufficient deterrent for Defendants. Therefore, the court awards Plaintiff statutory damages in the amount of three thousand seven hundred fifty dollars ($3,750.00)…

While the court finds that Defendants’ actions were willful and intentional violations of the Federal Communications Act, the maximum statutory enhancement is not warranted in this case. Therefore, the court awards enhanced damages in the amount of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00) to Plaintiff.

The Federal Communications Act requires the court to award “full costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, to an aggrieved party who prevails.” 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(B). Plaintiff is an aggrieved party, and Plaintiff has prevailed in this suit. Plaintiff has supported its request for costs and attorneys’ fees by producing bills and an affidavit detailing the costs of litigation. (ECF No. 11-6.) Plaintiff has also provided the affidavit of an independent attorney attesting to the appropriateness of Plaintiff’s attorney’s fee. (ECF No. 11-7.) The Court finds that Plaintiff has costs one thousand one hundred fifty five dollars ($1,155.00), and that Plaintiff is entitled to attorneys’ fees in the amount of two thousand one hundred seventy eight and 75/100 dollars ($2,178.75).

Adding to this site’s archived posts addressing safety studies in combative sports, an importation study was published in the Annals of Neurology this month finding that traumatic brain injury likely causes accelerated atrophy “aging” the brain by an average of over four years.

In the recent study conducted by James H. Cole, PhD, Robert Leech, PhD, and David J. Sharp, PhD, the researchers were able to accurately predict brain age based on MRI data.  The same brain age calculating methods were then applied to MRI’s from patients who suffered traumatic brain injuries.  The data set included 99 patients with persistent neurological problems after suffering a traumatic brain injury.  The cause of injury included a variety of mechanisms including sports injuries, vehicle collisions, assaults among others.

The study found, regardless of the cause of injury, the patients who suffered a traumatic brain injury had accelerated brain atrophy making their brains appear 4.66 years older than their actual age.  The severity of brain injury correlated to the severity of ‘aging’ with more profound brain injuries leading to greater brain atrophy.

Figure 1 TBI Aging StudyFigure 4 TBI Aging Study

The full study is valuable for anyone interested in health and safety issues in combat sports and can be found here – Prediction of Brain Age Suggests Accelerated Atrophy after TBI

The UFC’s jurisdiction hopping business model exposes the promotion to a host of different regulatory requirements.  The peculiarities in different jurisdictions create a variety of legal issues stakeholders must grapple with, for example the requirement to pay a headliner at least 10% of event receipts in Nova Scotia or Quebec’s bizzare rules of ‘mixed boxing’ that seem to be happily ignored for the UFC.

With UFC 186 scheduled to take place in Montreal later this month I had a quick refresher of Quebec’s Regulation Respecting Combat Sports.  Of interest for all fighters under a long term contract, Quebec imposes a host of legal requirements for such contracts to be valid.  Since the UFC has much of its roster under long term deals, the relevant protections set out in s. 169 and 169.1 come into play.  These read as follows with the most interesting provisions reproduced in bold:

169.  Any contract that binds a contestant and an organizer for more than 1 combat sports event shall not run for more than 2 years. The organizer shall send a copy of such contract to the board within 10 days following its signing along with any amendment to the contract, not later than before the holding of the sports event.
169.1.  A contract binding an organizer and a contestant for more than one sports event shall provide for or stipulate, in particular,
  (1)    the duration of the contract and the number of scheduled bouts;
  (2)    the amount of the purse for each bout;
  (3)    the renegotiation of the contestant’s remuneration if the contestant takes part in a championship bout before the end of his contract; the renegotiation will involve, in particular, the contestant’s remuneration and the expenses relating to sparring partners and training camps;
  (4)    that the organizer may not charge more than 10% of the contestant’s purse if he provides him with the services of a trainer;
  (5)    that the organizer undertakes to pay all the contestant’s travel expenses if a bout is to take place outside Québec;
  (6)    except if the contract is cancelled, that the contestant undertakes not to sign a contract with another organizer before the expiry date of the contract;
  (7)    that the organizer undertakes not to transfer his rights to a third person, unless the contestant agrees to the transfer and benefits from at least 80% of the difference between the consideration paid for the transfer of the rights for each bout and the amount of the purse to which the contestant is entitled for each bout; and
  (8)    the cancellation of the contract
  (a)      if the organizer’s or contestant’s licence is cancelled or suspended for the unexpired duration of the contract; or
  (b)      if the contestant is declared unfit to fight following a medical examination for the unexpired duration of the contract.
_________________

Assuming the language from Eddie Alvarez’s 2012 Contract is used routinely, UFC contracts contain specific language requiring fighters to ‘execute and comply’ with the requirements of Bout Agreements from the jurisdiction governing their bout.  The requirement  includes an agreement to comply with “any other contract required to be executed by law” (ie – in Quebec the above).  More importantly, the contracts state “to the extent of any conflict between (a UFC Contract) and a Bout Agreement with respect to a Bout, the Bout Agreement shall control“.  In other words; the above statutory requirements may trump any contradictory terms of a UFC Contract in Quebec.

So how can any offending terms be reconciled?  UFC Contracts deal with this as well reading that if there are any offending terms in the contract in any circumstance, and if these offending provisions cannot be modified in a way to make them legal, valid and enforceable then “the offending provision…shall be considered deleted“.

While its fun to make light of Quebec turning a blind eye to their bizarre ‘mixed boxing’ rules to accommodate the UFC, the regulations regarding contractual requirements would be no laughing matter if a fighter was displeased and took advantage of Quebec’s legal requirements to challenge contracts that don’t include all of the above protections.

Last month I had the opportunity to review Quinton Jackson’s Bellator Contract which became public record due to the litigation between Jackson and Bellator.  In short it appears Bellator may have breached the contract and not cured the breach within the allotted time frame allowing Jackson to terminate the contract.  Matching clauses, however, appear to survive the termination allowing Bellator to keep Jackson with their promotion if they so desire.

Today, Judge Karen Suter of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, handed down her ruling granting a preliminary injunction keeping Jackson from competing in UFC 186 scheduled later this month in Montreal.

In a nutshell today’s ruling means Jackson will need to hammer out a new deal with Bellator or stay sidelined indefinitely until the legal proceedings run their course in full at which time the winning side will be entitled to damages from the losing litigant for breach of contract.

You can read Judge Suter’s reasons here – Bellator v. Jackson Reasons for Injunction

Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts have taken their toll on the health of many combat sport practitioners and may even play a role in fatalities in combat sports such as boxing and MMA.

Regulators and others involved in the industry have slowly started to take notice with calls for reform with perhaps the most viable suggestion being that athletes be required to pass a hydration test when making weight.

A new study has now been published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism documenting more harms of the practice.  The study reviews biochemical and hormonal responses between MMA practitioners who undertake rapid cuts versus those that do not.  In short the study concludes “The practice of rapid weight loss showed a negative impact on energy availability and increased both muscle damage markers and catabolic expression in MMA fighters.”

An abstract of the recent study,titled Rapid Weight Loss Elicits Harmful Biochemical and Hormonal Responses in Mixed Martial Arts Athletes, can be found here.

Zuffa has been fighting two battles in New York for the past several years hoping the State would reverse their ban on professional MMA.

The first being a lawsuit alleging the ban is unconstitutional.  The second being lobbying efforts to overturn the ban.  While the lobbying efforts appear to finally be paying off, the court battle was dismissed today in Federal Court.

The lawsuit had lived through a number of challenges with the last surviving arguments being that New York’s flip flopping on the legal implications of the challenged legislation coupled with the State’s ever changing definition of ‘professional‘ contests created a sufficiently vague track record such that the legislation was unconstitutional.

These last arguments were dismissed today.  The Court did not address the merits of these claims, rather the Court dismissed the lawsuit on the technical grounds that the Plaintiff’s did not suffer any harm and therefore had no standing to bring the action.

A full copy of Judge Kimba Woods ruling can be found here: Zuffa New York Lawsuit Dismissal

A lot of positive headlines are circulating in the Mixed Martial Arts community celebrating the likely imminent legalization of professional MMA in the State of New York.

The Devil’s in the details, however, and the proposed legislation has some interesting twists and turns.

Not only does the current wording of Bill S02159 potentially disrupt all amateur MMA in the State, it also seeks to cast a wide regulatory net over all MMA Gyms, Clubs and Training Camps.

The Bill proposes to give New York’s State Athletic Commission jurisdiction, and the ability to create “rules and regulations for licencing and regulation” of all New York “gyms, clubs, training camps and other organizations that maintain training facilities providing contact sparring for persons who prepare for participation in such professional combative sports or exhibitions“.

Professional Combative Sports Participants, who need to be licensed, also has a broad definition which includes anyone who “teaches or pursues or assists in the practice of mixed martial arts…(for) pecuniary gain“.

You’re only teaching amateurs who don’t get paid to compete?  You’re likely still caught by this legislation because “professional combative sports” captures all events where an admission is charged, ie- most amateur events.

The legislation imposes a modest $50 annual licence fee for participants, no big deal right?  Not necessarily as the licence can be yanked if the New York Athletic Commission deems the licence holder is “guilty of an act detrimental to the interests of combative sports generally or the the public interest, convenience or necessity“.  Pretty broad powers to put someone out of business.

The Bill is not law yet and its not too late to bring suggested changes to lawmakers before it becomes law.  The full Bill can be found here: New York State Bill S02159

This weekend it was reported that 27 year old Ramin Zeynalov died after suffering a blow to the head in an Azerbaijanian MMA event.  This is the 11th death in the modern history of MMA.  Like with boxing, the majority of the deaths appear to be in lower weight classes where weight cut practices and dehydration may play a role. Here is the list to date:

1. American Douglas Dedge died from “severe brain injuries” two days following an unregulated March 16, 1998 bout in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Weight Unknown)

2. A Korean identified only as Lee died on May 12, 2005 in an unregulated bout in Samsong-dong, South Korea.  The reported cause of death was heart attack.  (Weight Unknown)

3. American Sam Vasquez died following a knockout loss at Renegades Extreme Fighting bout on October 20, 2007 in Houston Texas.  This was the first noted death in a regulated MMA bout.   The reported cause of death was blunt trauma of the head with a subdural hemorrhage.  (Fought at 145 lbs)

4. American Michael Kirkham was pronounced dead two days after losing consciousness during a regulated bout in South Carolina on June 26, 2010. An autopsy report listed the cause of death as “subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain” .(Fought at 155 lbs)

5.   Mike Mittelmeier died April 27, 2012 following an unregulated April 21 event in Bolivia.  He was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage.  (Weight Unknown)

6.  Dustin Jenson died May 24, 2012 at Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota, following an unregulated bout on May 18, 2012.  The cause of death was a”subdural hemorrhage resulting from blunt force trauma to the head“. (Fought at 155 lbs)

7.  Tyrone Mims died following a regulated amateur mixed martial arts show on August 11, 2012 in South Carolina.  His cause of death was unexplained. (Fought at 180 lbs)

8.  Canadian Resident Felix-Pablo Elochukwu died following an unregulated MMA bout in Michigan on April 7, 2013.  (Apparently weighed 260 pounds, although a heavyweight, coroners concluded that there was “no evidence” that trauma played a role in the death.)

9.  Leandro Souza, died in September, 2013 while cutting weight for Shooto Brazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro.

10.  Booto Guylain died from head injuries following his February 27, 2014 loss at EFC Africa 27 in Johannesberg, South Africa.  He died “as a result of complications related to the swelling of the brain“.  (Fought at 185 lbs)

11.  Ramin Zeynalov died after suffering a blow to the head in an unregulated bout in Azerbaijan in March, 2015.  His cause of death is reported as “a brain hemorrhage“. (Weight unknown but video of the bout suggests he fought at a lower weight class)

In what is now his third positive marijuana finding in Nevada, Nick Diaz has reportedly hired a New York lawfirm with expertise in “drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures,” to minimize fallout.  Diaz’s manager suggests there are “irregularities’ in Diaz’s results.“.

It is unclear what the suggested irregularities are and further it is unclear at this stage what legal strategy Diaz intends to employ.  What is known, however, is what strategy has failed in the past.

If Diaz holds a medical marijuana licence, relying on this after the fact cannot work as a defense.  If an athlete wants to use a prescribed drug that is banned in competition they would need to satisfy the TUE exemption test and would need to receive one ahead of time from the commission.  Prescription use cannot be used as a defence after the fact.

Another likely unsuccessful avenue is arguing that the reading is based on out of competition use.

As the world learned from the Jon Jones saga, marijuana, like cocaine, is only banned in-competition in Nevada.  There is speculation that Diaz may argue that his positive test can be accounted for by out of competition use of marijuana (ie – more than 12 hours before the bout.).  While, as a matter of fact, this may be true this legal argument has fallen flat before.

The NSAC’s current threshold for marijuana metabolites is 150 ng/mL.  In other words, any finding in an in-competition test that exceeds this threshold is deemed to be in-competition use.  Both the NSAC, and the courts in Nevada, have been satisfied that a reading that fails this threshold is sufficient to prove in competition use and justify administrative penalties.

I will follow up on this story as more details come to light.