Archive for the ‘California Combat Sports Law’ Category

Update March 8, 2017 – This weekend EBI hosted 3 combat jiu jitsu bouts.  Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission confirmed this event required State regulation and that regulatory oversight was delegated to CAMO.


As reported on the Underground, the Eddie Bravo Invitational, a leading no-gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament based in California, is looking to add limited striking to its events.

In an interview with Radio Bravo noted

Imagine EBI just the way it is, 16-man jiu-jitsu tournament, same stage, everything looking the same, same 10-minute rounds with the overtimes, except when the competitors are on the ground, open palm strikes, old Pancrase style to open up the submissions, to increase the submissions even more….No punches, no MMA gloves … no elbows, no kicks … we’re going to have that in 2017

While this limited striking philosophy can add excitement to events and lead to more openings and more submission finishes, it is a rule change that likely brings a BJJ tournament from a self regulated event to one that is captured under the umbrella of State regulation.

The California State Athletic Commission has jurisdiction over “all professional and amateur boxing, professional and amateur kickboxing, all forms and combinations of forms of full contact martial arts contests, including mixed martial arts, and matches or exhibitions conducted, held or given within (California)

A submission based tournament would not fall under this definition.  However, as soon as striking is added, even open handed palm striking, the event likely meets the definition of “full contact martial arts contests” which are defined as follows:

the use of physical force in a martial
arts contest that may result or is intended to result in physical
harm to the opponent, including any contact that does not meet the
definition of light contact or noncontact.

Light contact is defined as follows:

the use of controlled martial arts
techniques whereby no contact to the face is permitted and no contact
is permitted which may result or is intended to result in physical
harm to the opponent.

Given that open handed slaps to the face are being called for (and if you don’t know these can cause “harm to an opponent” just watch some old school Bas Rutten Pancrase bouts) the definition of ‘light contact’ is not met and this rule change will likely bring EBI events under CSAC regulation.  This opinion is bolstered by the position the CSAC has taken on pankration events with limited striking. 

I have reached out to the current Executive Director of the CSAC for comment and will update this article if/when he replies.

Last year the California State Athletic Commission fined Alexander Shlemenko and handed him a three year suspension after “testing positive for steroids”.

As previously reported the regulatory hearing left much to be desired from a perspective of due process and objective fairness.  Shlemenko judicially reviewed the CSAC’s decision and in part succeeded by having his fine decreased and having the three year suspension reduced to one year.

Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien’s reasons can be found here – Shlemenko Reasons For Judgement .

Three takeaways are noteworthy, the first California specific, the second and third in a broader sense.

  1. The CSAC regulatory scheme does not require the commission to split samples into “A” and “B” samples. The Court ruled that “The Commission is bound to follow its own regulations and other laws, not the Commission’s agreement with its testing lab.  The applicable regulations specify that the single positive test result is sufficient to show a violation of the anti-drug rules and does not mention taking a “B” sample“.
  2. Due Process matters.  The Court held that the Commission was wrong in increasing Shlemenko’s penalty from one year to three simply because he insisted on exorcising his administrative rights.  Judge O’Brian stated “The Court agrees that under the circumstances of this case, it violated Petitioner’s due process rights to increase the proposed penalty by three years.  Petitioner could not have known that by appealing the suspension of his license he was reopening the issue of the length of the suspension.  The Commission does not cite any authority or precedent that would allow them to increase the penalty from the original term of approximately one year.  Indeed, a three-year penalty was not even discussed until the closing briefs on the penalty issue, and by that time Petitioner was unable to respond.  Accordingly, the Commission violated Petitioner’s due process rights by imposing a suspension that was longer than originally noticed
  3. The Court reduced Shlemenko’s fine on the basis that the CSAC  only had the ability to issue a fine for “any false statement made in application for a license” and they were wrong in fining Shlemenko for potentially false statements not related to his licence.  The lesson is that Athletic Commissions are pure creatures of statute and only can exercise those powers specifically given to them, not those that they would like to have or those that they should have.


As perhaps the leading jurisdiction when it comes to tackling rapid extreme weight cuts in combat sports, a practice which has led to notable injuries and even death, California has passed emergency rules adding much needed regulation and oversight to the dangerous practice.

The new rules, which are the most robust passed by any US or Canadian jurisdiction, read as follows and are self explanatory in their scope:

CSAC Weight Cut Law

As first reported by MMAFighting’s Marc Raimondi, “these rules can go into effect as early as March 1. Because these were emergency rules, they were added on a trial basis and will be revisited by the commission at a later date“.

Update – The CSAC has apparently suspended Tarverdyan for the three months and fined him $5,000 with Marc Raimondi reporting as follows

Raimondi Tweet re ET


Last month the California State Athletic Commission revoked Edmund Tarverdyan’s second’s licence.  As the head trainer and corner to UFC’s former bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, among other athletes, this can have an adverse impact on Tarverdyan’s involvement in the sport.

Tarverdyan appealed the revocation and his hearing is scheduled today.  The CSAC’s materials, which have now been released, shed light on the reason behind the revocation, namely an allegedly dishonest answer, made under penalty of perjury, to a question regarding ‘past criminal offences‘.

ET Licence Suspension Letter

Update September 17, 2015 – Today Andy Foster of the CSAC was kind enough to call to add some clarity to this situation.  Foster states that the names were drawn following Bellator’s last California event, that these were drawn by a CSAC inspector under his supervision.  In terms of how the CSAC deviated from s. 503 Foster explains that the commission is relying on s. 381 which allows the CSAC to “authorize alternate provisions from time to time as long as the safety and welfare of the boxers and the public are not jeopardized.”  The problem with this, from my perspective, is this section is limited to championship bouts and really does not seem applicable to an elimination tournament designed to create a title contender.

From an objective perspective, the integrity of the tournament draw is not particularly jeopardized with names being drawn ahead of weigh ins and deviation from s. 503 cannot be said to jeopardize “safety and welfare“.  Nonetheless the CSAC seems to be liberal in their interpretation of the regulations in accomodation of this event.


I previously discussed that California enjoys the ability to host a one night elimination MMA tournament (unlike Washington which the WSOF recently learned).  However, it looks like one of the requirements for such tournaments is already being broken.

MMA Junkie reports that Bellator has released the rules for the 4 man tournament and that the California State Athletic Commission has already “conducted a random draw for the opening-round matchup” with the article stating as follows:

The first tournament fights see Phil Davis (13-3 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) face off against ex-champ Emanuel Newton (25-8-1 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) while Muhammed Lawal (15-4-1 MMA, 7-3 BMMA) vs. Linton Vassell (15-4 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) rounds out the field.

The problem with this? The regulations specifically allowing one night MMA tournaments prohibit the first round match-ups from being pre-selected until the weigh ins.  Specifically s. 503 of the Regulations reads as follows:

§ 503. Tournament or Elimination Format Contests – Selection of Opponents.

In any tournament or elimination format contest, the commission shall determine the initial opponents in the first round of the tournament by drawing names at the weigh-in. 

Bellator can legally host their tournament but it is unclear why this very specific rule is being ignored.  Time will tell if the CSAC will overrule these pre-determined match ups and instead follow the letter of their regulations.  For the sake of fairness for all involved this should be clarified immediately.

I have reached out to the CSAC for an explanation and will update this article once I have their reply.

Update – July 21, 2016 – according to Ken Pavia Alexander Shlemenko won his appeal and is free to fight

Ken Pavia Tweets


This week the California State Athletic Commission handed out a three year suspension to Alexander Shlemenko who tested positive for prohibited PED’s following his last Bellator bout.

This is no doubt evidence of a changing of the guard in terms of how regulators are going to deal with drug cheats. Penalties will become increasingly heavy handed and that is a good thing.  There are lessons to be learned, however, from this affair and these are not limited to athletes.  Regulators need to understand that, given the serious consequences suspensions have on a fighter’s livelihood, integrity in the testing process must be in place and due process during regulatory hearings is imperative.  Here the California State Athletic Commission fell short on both counts.

The Shlemenko hearing, which begins at just past the one hour twenty minute mark of the below video is worth reviewing.  The commission all but mocks Shlemenko for choosing to be represented by a lawyer and even make comments that demonstrate fettered discretion with minds appearing to be made up prior to full submissions being digested.  The proposed penalties against Shlemenko were apparently far more lenient initially only turning more punitive in the days prior to the requested hearing.  The testing process leaves much to be desired as well with the evidence establishing that the CSAC did not collect a B sample despite their contract with the testing facility requiring this to be conducted.  Whether or not collection of a B sample is required under the California regulatory scheme, a question a Court will likely ultimately answer as Shlemenko has indicated he is seeking to judicially review the ban, it is clear that the CSAC has no set objective standards in place outlining the required steps needed for drug sample collection and testing.

Regulators should have a clear legislative framework for the PED tests they are allowed to conduct, a clear set of penalties for those who fail them, firm standards in place for the integrity of the collection and testing process and lastly respect for due process rights of athletes who hold the State to their statutory burden of proof.

The California State Athletic Commission has been one of the more vocal regulators about the dangers of Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts in combative sports.  They continue to take action with the AC’s Executive Officer, Andy Foster, recently being grated permission to purchase a Body Composition Analyzer to use at weigh ins.

In a meeting held earlier this year, Foster voiced concern to the commission about the link between dehydration and traumatic brain injury noting that “dehydration is a problem right in front of us and we see it all the time“.  In addition to warning athletes of these risks, Foster sought, and was granted permission, to purchase a Body Composition Analyzer and also a portable brain scanner which could help detect hematomas.  A budget of $20,000 was approved to purchase these items.   Here are the minutes of the discussion –

CSAC Minutes re Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts 1

CSAC Minutes re Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts 2

The one night elimination tournament is at the foundation of the history of modern mixed martial arts but the format has all but disappeared since the early days of the sport.

Today, Bellator MMA announced plans to host a one night 4 man elimination tournament in California.  Is that even legal in the State?  The short answer is yes.

While many states do not have a framework in place to allow one night tournaments given mandatory medical suspensions imposed by statute (you can click here to read about the questionable framework in place in Oklahoma who approved such a tournament last year), and with the ABC Medical Committee taking an express stance against such competitions, one night tournaments are indeed a rare occurrence.  California, however, has a specific statutory framework in place which allows such tournaments.

Here is the breakdown –

The California State Athletic Commission enjoys jurisdiction over “all professional and amateur…forms  and combinations of forms of full contact marital arts contests, including mixed martial arts“.

California’s Regulations specifically allow elimination tournaments in MMA with s. 503 of the Regulations reading as follows:

§ 503. Tournament or Elimination Format Contests – Selection of Opponents.

In any tournament or elimination format contest, the commission shall determine the initial opponents in the first round of the tournament by drawing names at the weigh-in.

Lastly, while California, like most other States, calls for mandatory suspensions after competition, they carved out an exception to this rule for tournaments with Section 515 of the Regulations stating as follows:

§ 515. Time Between Bouts.

Unless written approval is obtained from the commission, a fighter who has competed in a bout or tournament format event anywhere in the world shall not be allowed to compete in this state until seven days have elapsed from the date of that bout or event. This limitation shall not be construed to prohibit a fighter from competing in a tournament format event that requires the fighter to rest a minimum of 30 minutes between bouts. In a tournament format event, a fighter shall be examined by a physician before each bout.

With the passage of enough time everything old is new again!

In the wake of Nevada’s recent decision to up the ante for doping violators in combat sports, California appears geared to do the same.

This week California Senate Bill 469 underwent hearing and passed a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The Bill seeks to increase the California State Athletic Commission’s penalties for doping violations from a ceiling of $2,500 to a maximum of 40% of a fighter’s purse.

As Zach Arnold notes, this will create real incentive for the CSAC to conduct robust out of completion testing as high profile busts will help fund the high costs of out of competition blood and urine testing which the CSAC bears directly.

The overhauled legislative sections are proposed read as follows:

18649. (a) The administration or use of any drugs, alcohol,
stimulants, or injections in any part of the body or the use of any
prohibited substance specified in the Prohibited List of the World
Anti-Doping Code, as adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency, by a
professional or amateur boxer or martial arts fighter licensed by the
commission shall be prohibited. The commission, in its discretion
and pursuant to regulations adopted pursuant to the Administrative
Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1
of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code), may determine the
necessity of exemptions to this section for certain licensees.
(b) The commission may conduct testing at any time during the
period of licensure for a professional or amateur boxer or martial
arts fighter licensed by the commission to ensure compliance with
subdivision (a).
(c) The commission may collect blood and urine specimens from a
professional or amateur boxer or martial arts fighter licensed by the
commission to detect the presence of any prohibited substances.
Collection of specimens shall be done in the presence of authorized
commission personnel.
(d) A professional or amateur boxer or martial arts fighter
licensed by the commission, for which the presence of a prohibited
substance is detected through testing by the commission, shall be in
violation of this section and subject to the penalties described in
Section 18843.
SEC. 5. Section 18843 of the Business
and Professions Code is amended to read:
18843. (a) In addition to its authority
under other provisions of this chapter to take action against a
licensee, the commission, its executive officer, or his or her duly
authorized representative shall have the authority to assess fines
not to exceed two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) for each
violation of any of the provisions of this chapter or any of the
rules and regulations of the commission.
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision, the commission may also
assess a fine equal to 40% percent of the total purse for a violation
of Section 18649 related to the use of prohibited substances.

California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster has been one of the most outspoken regulators when it comes to rapid extreme weight cut practices in MMA, an entrenched reality of the sport that comes with real dangers.

Last year Foster stated that reform is coming to California and details of proposed reforms are now coming to light.

ESPN’s Brett Okamoto interviewed Foster who revealed that their goal is to address the problem bottom up starting with the amateurs.  A tentative plan is in place to create a lowest allowable weight limiti for anyone competing in amateur MMA by January, 2016.  Okamoto reports as follows:

Effective Jan. 1, 2016, amateur mixed martial artists competing in California will comply with a lowest allowable weight limit, designed to prevent athletes from ever dropping below 5 percent body fat.

That is the current goal, according to California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO) director JT Steele and California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive director Andy Foster.

While it’s not completely certain changes will go into effect by the start of next year, that is the timeframe CSAC and CAMO are anticipating. The longterm goal, Foster says, is to see lowest allowable weight limits adopted at a professional level….

The new amateur program, once in effect, will set a minimum weight class a fighter is allowed to compete in, based on a physical assessment conducted by a CSAC-licensed ringside physician. This practice is already utilized by the NCAA in amateur wrestling. While the NCAA also prohibits specific weight-cutting methods, CAMO intends to focus exclusively on the lowest allowable weight limit for now.

I applaud California regulators for taking steps to address this problem.  While no solution is perfect I encourage regulators to look at the possibility of adding a hydration test to coincide with weigh ins, this can ensure that every athlete cleared to compete makes weight while being hydrated which would address the root danger that come from Rapid Extreme Weight Cut practices, ie – profound dehydration in close proximity to competition.