The Legalities of Florida Shutting Down Tara LaRosa’s “Open Mat” Bout Against Internet Troll

This weekend professional MMA fighter Tara LaRosa attempted to compete in a self-described sparring bout against a male athlete.  The event’s facebook page described the male as an “internet troll that says an untrained man can defeat 99% of women even if they are trained“.

A GoFundMe account was launched and nearly $6,000 was raised for LaRosa.  The account gave the following description of how the funds would be used

to help cover costs of the sparring match (Flight, Hotel and other costs associated with the event) and to give her a bonus after the match. Anything provided after the costs of the match will become a bonus for her. She will keep the money win, lose or draw and regardless if the internet troll shows up to spar.

The male vs female aspect of this bout caught the eye of local authorities who shut it down before it occurred.  WMMARankings.com reports that “Tonight’s highly anticipated intergender sparring bout between WMMA pioneer Tara LaRosa and sexist internet troll, Kristopher Zylinski, has been cancelled.  Just one hour before the fight was scheduled to begin, the State Athletic Commission arrived at the venue along with the police and shut down the event. Both LaRosa and the troll were present at the venue in preparation for the bout.”

LaRosa questioned this decision on Twitter noting “So reflecting on the events of last night, I have to wonder, is it ok in the state of Florida for men and women to train and spar together? Or will the commission and the police start shutting dow coed martial arts gyms?

This is a fair question.  Although combat sports are regulated throughout the US and Canada training and sparring is largely outside of the scope regulatory oversight.  This event was to take place in Florida where the Florida State Boxing Commission enjoys authority over combat sports regulation.

The starting point in reviewing whether an event is illegal is to look at the law which supposedly could have been violated.  Title XXXIII Chapter 548.008 sets out what exactly are ‘prohibited competitions‘ in Florida making the participation in such contests a misdemeanor and the promotion of such contests a felony.  Spedically the section reads as follows:

548.008 Prohibited competitions.

(1) No match involving amateurs which utilizes, but is not necessarily limited to, strikes or blows to the head may be held in this state unless it is sanctioned and supervised by an amateur sanctioning organization approved by the commission as required by this chapter.
(2) No professional match may be held in this state unless it meets the requirements for holding the match as provided in this chapter and the rules adopted by the commission.
(3)(a) Any person participating in a match prohibited under this section, knowing the match to be prohibited, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082or s. 775.083.
(b) Any person holding, promoting, or sponsoring a match prohibited under this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

Would this event, if it proceeded, violate this section?  It is debatable.

The event was advertised not as a match in the conventional sense of the word but simply as a sparring session during an open mat.  The event’s facebook page provided the following description of what was to transpire:

We will be hosting an Open Mat from 5pm – 7pm.
A $20 mat fee will be required at the door. We will be streaming the sparring match live for anyone unable to attend. We are asking for donations to help with costs and an extra bonus for her.

There is nothing illegal about a gym holding an open mat.  It is not a crime to charge participants for attending an open mat.  It is not unusual for men to spar with women at an open mat.  Lastly, there is nothing out of the ordinary about one sparring session proving more intriguing  than others with other athletes becoming temporary spectators.

A public raising of funds for travel with any excess funds being a ‘bonus’ does not seem problematic either.

So the question is why did Florida shut this down.  Presumably because they did not believe this event was a simple open mat but rather that was a guise to hold an otherwise unregulated “match” in the State.

The above framework sets out what is prohibited.

LaRosa does not meet the definition of an ‘amateur’ in the State even if she was truly not being paid for this bout with Florida’s statute addressing pugilistic competitions providing the following definition of an amateur athlete “a person who has never received nor competed for any purse or other article of value, either for the expenses of training or for participating in a match, other than a prize of $50 or less in value“.

If the planned bout did not involve “strikes or blows to the head “, however, it appears legally permissible and outside the scope of State’s boxing commission and amateur sanctioning bodies reaches.  It is unclear from what was advertised on the events Facebook page if such a limitation was in place.

If LaRosa cannot use the amateur exception due to her previous professional career the State would have to prove that a prohibited “match” was taking place.  Match is defined to include both “contests” and “exhibitions” which are defined as follows:

Contest” means a boxing, kickboxing, or mixed martial arts engagement in which persons participating strive to win using strikes and blows to the head or other full-contact maneuvers.

Exhibition” means a boxing, kickboxing, or mixed martial arts engagement in which persons participating show or display their skill without necessarily striving to win using strikes and blows to the head or other full-contact maneuvers.

This is fairly broad language and very well could have captured what was intended to take place.   It can also capture what occurs regularly in countless gyms in the State.

Ultimately no one wanted to flirt with being arrested and having these fine points tested in a court of law.  No one can be blamed for this caution.  This is, however, an example that if regulators wish to oversee training they should have clear and unambiguous language spelling out what is and what is not permitted.

 

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