John Diedrich, reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues to ask questions following the death of amateur kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr.

The potential legal consequences from this tragedy are ongoing with the police apparently “investigating why video of kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr.’s fatal fight — submitted to detectives as evidence — was missing 32 seconds at a crucial moment“.

Additionally, Munson’s family apparently is planning to file civil complaints against individuals involved in the oversight of the bout.

In his ongoing reporting Diedrich obtained a copy of a letter from Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams who conducted a legal analysis into the death and declined to file criminal charges finding that the requirements for proving criminal recklessness likely could not be made out in the circumstances particularly given the issue of consent in the realm of combat sports.

Williams full letter can be found here - ADA Letter Declining To File Charges in Dennis Munson Jr Death

His legal analysis is as follows:

Legal Analysis

In examining the actions of those in control of the fight, as to their conformity to the law, it is difficult to find criminal violations at this time. From the video,it seems apparent from the middle of the second round to the end of the fightthat Mr. Munson was in some distress. He was wobbly on his feet, he occasionally staggered, and between the second and third round his head dropped several times and had to be lifted by his corner man. In the third round he appeared to have little aggression and it seemed his opponent eased off, recognizing the lack of aggression by Mr. Munson.

The act of being reckless in the State of Wisconsin is defined in Wisconsin Statute 939.24(1). The actor must create an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to another human being and must be aware of that risk. These elements of recklessness are found in both 941.30(1), First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety and 940.30(2), Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety.

There is also the matter of consent and assumption of risk when one enters into a combat fight. You certainly consent to be hit and possibly knocked out. The question arises as to what is too far, and if the standard of criminal recklessness overcomes assumption of risk. In looking at the video tape of the fight most people would agree the fight should have been stopped in the third round, and perhaps at the end of the second round. Some people including the referee in the fight, and Mr. Munson’s trainer/manager believed that the fight should continue, though it was apparent that Mr. Munson had been impaired by receiving blows during the fight. Despite receiving the numerous blows, Mr. Munson attempted to keep fighting, though rather ineffectively.

Looking at the totality of the whole fight, and what happened directly afterward, the State believes at this time it cannot prove that anyone involved in the fight created an unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to Mr. Munson, and were aware of that risk considering that the context of the injuries were inflicted during a consensual kick boxing match.

Finally, it appears the opponent of Mr. Munson actually became less aggressive during the third round of the fight possibly realizing Mr. Munson was hurt.

 

Contrary to popular belief, most deaths in combat sports occur in lower weight classes as opposed to the heavier hitting classes.  One of the likely contributors is the brain dehydration that comes with rapid extreme weight cut practices associated with combatants making weight.

A tragic recent death in amateur kickboxing occurred earlier this year in Wisconsin and dehydration may have, yet again, played a role.

The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has the story which is worth reading in full.  In short, amateur kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr. died after hours after his debut bout.  There are reportedly a myriad of issues which could have been better handled, among these were a difficult weight cut by the inexperienced athlete.  When addressing the role dehydration may have played the Sentinel reports as follows:

They weighed in on the morning of the bout, giving them only hours to replenish weight lost to fight in a lighter class. It is a less expensive option for the promoter because officials don’t need to be paid to be there the day before.

But the state views that approach as more dangerous. In MMA matches in Wisconsin, officials require weigh-ins to be done the day before a fight. That allows more time for fluids to be replenished including around the brain, where they increase protection from blows…

In the weeks prior to his first bout, Munson worried about being able to make weight. Fellow fighters wondered if he was ready.

Five weeks before the fight, Munson committed in a contract to compete at 135 pounds, Joffe said. Fighters who don’t make weight can face “punitive fines” from the promoter.

It’s unclear how much weight Munson had to cut; Joffe said it was about eight pounds.By all accounts, it was a struggle for the already lean young man.

“He was stressing,” said Cody Heck, who was on the fight team with Munson. “We all talked to him and told him, ‘You gotta eat.’”

Weight-cutting is a widespread tactic in combat sports, but comes at a risk as fighters try to replenish lost fluids between the weigh-in and the fight.

Some states are considering increasing scrutiny of the weight-cutting process. In California, fighters would weigh in twice and be limited in the percentage of weight they can cut between weigh-ins, said Andy Foster, executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission.

“It allows for healthy rehydration but not ridiculous rehydration,” Foster said.

Several high-profile MMA and kickboxing fighters have collapsed following weight cuts in the past several years. Last year, a fighter in Brazil died after he suffered a stroke while in a sauna cutting weight.

Joffe said the Roufusport fighters are told how to safely cut weight.

“All you can do is tell them what to do, but you can’t force them to do it,” he said.

Some fighters said there were no classes on weight-cutting at Roufusport. The amateurs learned from the professional fighters.

They talked about “eating clean,” focusing on fish and spinach and other healthy foods. But if that doesn’t get them all the way down, they shed water weight. Fighters may sit in a sauna, work out while wearing plastic bags, stop drinking water. Derrick Munson later told policethat his brother wore extra clothes when he worked out and skipped meals.

Dennis Munson also struggled with his fighting skills, which is common for newcomers. He was fast, but he had trouble keeping his hands up as a defense.

“It takes a long time to get comfortable with people punching at your face,” said Johnson, his teammate. “You panic and don’t react properly, and that’s what happened with him.”

The weigh-in for the March fight was held at the Eagles Club, about eight hours before the event. A nurse did the prefight exam, which amounted to checking fighters’ vital signs.

Had it been a state-regulated event, Munson and the others would have received a full physical from a doctor in the weeks prior to the fight.

About 11 a.m., Munson texted his brother, Derrick, the good news that he made weight. Derrick said he would drive him to the fight later in the day.

On their way to the fight, according to the police report, Dennis Munson had one complaint: He was thirsty.

Derrick didn’t see his brother drink anything before the fight.

From the Sentinel’s reporting it appears many factors played a role in this unfortunate ring death.  The tolls of dehydration and weight cutting, unfortunately, yet again appear to have played a role.

Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits ‘prize fights’ as a default position and sets out ways in which Provinces can legalize various amateur and professional combat sports.

While section 83′s recent amendments were generally a positive development as they paved the way for legal MMA in Canada, the section is poorly drafted and led to a variety of ambiguities such as whether professional kickboxing can be legalized in Canada.

I recently had to consider whether Provinces can legalize amateur Muay Thai contests.  For those unfamiliar with the sport, Muay Thai is a kickboxing sport which also allows the use of elbows and knees.

The reason why the question arose is s. 83 of the Criminal Code defines ‘prize fight’ as “an encounter or fight with fists, hands or feet between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them“. Notably missing from the section are the words ‘elbows’ and ‘knees’.

So can a Province legalize an amateur Muay Thai contest given this omission?  The answer is  yes.   Some Provinces, such as BC, already have.  Sections 83(2)(a)(b) and (c) discuss how Provinces can legalize amateur prize fights.  There is nothing in these sections limiting a sport using elbows or knees.  These sections are simply triggered if the sport in question uses “fists, hands or feet.”.   If so, the sport in question must comply with the Criminal Code.

If anything, the exclusion of the words ‘elbows’ and ‘knees’ means if two people get together and decide to have a fight exclusively using elbow and knee strikes, that would not, be definition, be a prize fight under this section!

MMA Regulatory Roundup

Posted: November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

A quick roundup of recent regulatory punishments of note this week in the world of MMA.

The penalty for Gonzalez is perhaps the most noteworthy.  The positive marijuana test did not result in overturning his victory and only brought a modest fine.  This can be contrasted with the competitors who tested positive for drugs with performance enhancing qualities where the result was overturned.

 

Following Bellator 127 the California State Athletic Commission tested all 22 fighters on the card.  This widespread testing apparently caught many of the fighters off guard and according to one source, “people back stage were freaking out.“.

The results are now in and, as reported by Sherdog, 4 of the 22 fighters tested positive for prohibited substances.  That’s 18% of the roster competing that night.

As the Nevada State Athletic Commission has proven, unexpected testing results in a far greater number of positive PED findings in MMA.  The reported CSAC findings bolster the conclusion that PED abuse is far more widespread than revealed with predictable PED testing.

Given that conventional PED testing in the sport is fraught with obvious and glaring weaknesses” hopefully other commissions will follow this example and test more combatants when they do not expect it.

Earlier this week the Combat Sports world was dragged in to a lawsuit with allegations of neglect in the face of brain injury and condoned rampant steroid use.  Neglectful PED testing policies will put both promoters and athletic commissions in the cross hairs of a lawsuit in the future unless meaningful actions are taken to clean up PED use from the sport.  The CSAC’s actions of testing all licensed fighters is a step in the right direction and hopefully other regulators of the sport take notice.

Following a series of high profile brain injury lawsuits hitting professional sports, the world of Combat Sports has now been brought into this unwelcome club.

William Haynes aka Billy Jack Haynes, a former professional wrestler, filed a lawsuit earlier this week in US Federal Court against the WWE.    The lawsuit follows a similar model to the NFL brain injury class action, namely allegations that the WWE fraudulently covered up the true medical toll of the sport from their athletes.  The most troubling allegation, one which if proven is likely to create the greatest chance of success, states that “instead of stopping wrestling matches when wrestlers have sustained head injuries, WWE, along with its doctors and medical professionals, has allowed such matches to continue” and that “during and after wrestling matches, medical professionals associated with WWE have negligently or purposefully failed to diagnose concussions” and lastly that “For years, WWE employed medical staff for the purpose of rubber-stamping a wrestler’s participation long past the outer boundaries of then-known safety guidelines“.

The lawsuit seeks class action status but has not yet been certified, the allegations have not yet been proven.

While many don’t consider professional wrestling to be a true combat sport given its predetermined outcomes, there is no doubt that these athletes are exposed to significant trauma over the course of their careers.  Whether this claim succeeds or not, the strong message to those involved in combat sports promotion is to be proactive in the face of ever growing medical understanding of traumatic brain injury sustained not only from single concussive events, but also from careers built on a foundation of multiple sub concussive impacts.

It is the duty of those who seek to profit from the toils of others to ensure those individuals understand the true risks of the enterprise.  Repeated head trauma can bring serious consequences and employers who turn a blind eye to these risks, or worse yet, cover up these risks do so at their own peril.

As the NFL lawsuit has proven, allegations of fraud can go a long way in setting aside conventional limitation periods and defenses relating to informed consent.  Combat Sports athletes have now taken notice and I suspect this is the first of many such claims which will be advanced in years to come.

Haynes Class Action Complaint Allegation can be found here - Haynes v. WWE Class Action Complaint

Adding to this site’s archived judgments of lawsuits addressing UFC piracy claims, reasons for judgement were recently released by the US District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division, ordering double the cost of licencing as fair damages following commercial piracy.

In the recent case (Joe Hand Promotions Inc v. Guillory) the Defendant Rival Sports Grill, LLC was sued after showing UFC 130 without paying the required sub licence fee to the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff obtained default judgement and asked for maximum statutory damages of $10,000 and additionally enhanced damages.  The Court dismissed the claim for enhanced damages but awarded statutory damages of $3,200, a sum twice the price of the sub licence fee.  In finding this to be a fair assessment District Judge Hailk provided the following reasons:

Plaintiff has elected to seek statutory damages and requests the maximum amount of $10,000. In its Memorandum Supporting Default Judgment, R. 9, Plaintiff argues that it would be impossible to calculate the full extent of lost profits and additional damages suffered because of Defendant’s actions. To support its claim for damages, Plaintiff attached an affidavit from its President, Joe Hand, Jr., explaining the serious threat that this sort of conduct poses to the industry. R. 9-2. Courts have awarded various amounts of statutory damages for similar conduct. Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Plummer 2014 WL 3749148 (N.D.Miss.,2014) (awarding base statutory damages of $3,000); Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Armijo, 2014 WL 1761709 (W.D.Tex.,2014) (awarding base statutory damages of $3,600); Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Alima, 2014 WL 1632158 (N.D.Tex., 2014) (awarding base statutory damages of $5,000); Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Ashby 2014 WL 1330027 (E.D.La.,2014) (awarding statutory damages of $4,800); Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Bonvillain 2013 WL 5935208 (E.D.La.,2013) (awarding base statutory damages of $1,925). As stated by Plaintiff, one purpose of statutory damages is to deter this type of conduct. By imposing only minimal statutory damages or only requiring Defendant to pay the licensing fee he should have previously paid, Defendant would have no motivation to refrain from continuing the unauthorized conduct. In addition, this conduct harms Plaintiff’s business and decreases profits. Considering the need to deter future similar conduct and that the commercial sub-license fee alone in this case would have been $1600, the Court finds that a flat penalty of two times the license fee, or $3200, is a just amount under the circumstances, and is comparable with awards in similar cases. See Bonvillain,2013 WL 5935208, at *2 (E.D.La.,2013) (J.Africk) (finding award of approximately twice the license fee to be a “just amount under the circumstances”)…

Considering Plaintiff’s evidence, the small size of the crowd viewing the Program, and the fact that there is no evidence that Defendant, Rival, was a repeat offender, the Court…declines to award enhanced damages.

Andy Foster, the current Executive Director at the California State Athletic Commission, recently interviewed with Joe Ferraro where Foster revealed that he is spearheading regulatory change to bring reform to the dangerous Rapid Extreme Weight Loss practices prevalent in MMA and Boxing.  You can listen to the full interview here starting at the 13 minute mark:

Fosters comments include the following

Next week I’m actually going to Las Vegas to discuss this issue with the Association of Ringside Physicians.

What I can tell you is something’s going to be coming….We want something to happen.  I think that (caliper measurements) they’ve had some good success with that.  So I think that is certainly coming.  Another thing I think is the gold standard and something I wold support is hydrostatic testing to determine the minimum weight that you can fight at for the year….Those are two ideas.

What we have right now is not working…What really got me into a panic, so to speak, was after the UFC (177) here in Sacramento, the day of the weigh-in. We have two of our fighters unable to weigh in, or licensees, because they’ve lost too much weight…I think that’s a problem. That’s want kind of stirred me to start taking action.

The A.R.P. is certainly on board with doing something. They issued their statement last year about weigh-ins…(once) we establish the lowest weight…that lowest weight be placed on the fighters permanent record both with the A.B.C. (Association of Boxing Commissions) database and the Fight Fax database….When a commission pulls the Fight Fax and looks up a record, we can see right here and we can make sure they are not contracted for less than that amount of weight

Fights between dehydrated opponents following Rapid Extreme Weight Loss practices are one of the greatest dangers in MMA, a sad irony considering weight classes are designed to protect fighters.  Foster’s efforts should be encouraged by all stakeholders interested in the long term well being of the combat sports landscape.

 

Ontario Plans to Legalize ammy combat sports

Since last year I have been pressing Ontario for answers about if or when they will exercise their section 83 Criminal Code powers to legalize amateur MMA and other non-Olympic combat sports.

Ontario has finally provided a substantive reply and the Province advises that they plan on legalizing amateur MMA along with  many other combat sports. Specifically Steve Harlow of Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has advised that:

For the purposes of Section 83 of the Criminal Code, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport proposes that the following amateur combative sports be designated:

 

 

- boxing
- jiu jitsu
- judo
- karate
- kickboxing
- mixed martial arts
- taekwondo
- wrestling
- wushu

You can find a copy of Harlow’s full letter here which seeks feedback from all interested in the Combat Sports community:

Ontario Amateur Combat Sports Proposed Action

The Ministry is seeking stakeholder feedback until December 8 and the formal regulations are expected shortly thereafter.

BC Athletic Commission Logo

The office of the British Columbia Athletic Commissioner, who oversee various amateur and professional combat sports in the Province, is looking to overhaul and finalize their rules relating to amateur MMA, Pankration, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Combat Sports Tournaments (events where athletes participate in more than one match during the event).

The BCAC has put together a Draft of the proposed rules for each of these respective sports which can be found here.

 

BCAC Draft New Amateur Kickboxing Rules

BCAC Draft New Amateur MMA Rules

BCAC Draft New Amateur Muay Thai Rules

BCAC Draft New Amateur Pankration Rules

BCAC Draft New Amateur Tournament Rules

Prior to finalizing these rules the BCAC is looking for feedback from the combat sports ccommunityand other interested parties.

All interested parties are invited to email thoughts and suggestions on how to improve the proposed rules to Athletic.Commissioner@gov.bc.ca.

The deadline for submissions is November 28, 2014.

The Commissioner will review suggestions before finalizing and posting updated rules for use in amateur combat sports. It is anticipated that final rules will be posted in early 2015.

Until new rules are posted, the current versions remain in effect.