AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislation that would allow mixed martial arts fights in Maine has received all but final approval from lawmakers, and Gov. John Baldacci says he will consider signing the measure after his administration opposed a similar bill earlier this year.
“The original bill had the Department [of Public Safety] regulating it, and there was just not the expertise and staff to handle it,” Baldacci said in an interview. “That is not what is called for now.”
The measure passed by the House and Senate is a different bill from that crafted by the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee. The new measure would establish the Mixed Martial Arts Authority of Maine to regulate and promote mixed martial arts competitions, exhibitions and events. The governor would appoint the five members to the authority.
“This legislation provides for the oversight of what is one of the fastest-growing sports,” said Rep. Matthew Petersen, D-Rumford, sponsor of the original bill. “Maine is missing out on a golden opportunity to bring in new revenues.”
Mixed martial arts is defined in the bill as a combative sport for compensation that features a mixture of karate, jiu-jitsu, muay thai, tae kwon do, boxing, kick boxing, wrestling, judo, and striking and grappling techniques.
Gov. Baldacci said he is willing to consider signing the bill and plans to speak with both supporters and opponents if the measure is enacted. The House passed the bill 119-17 and the Senate gave it all but final approval without debate or a recorded vote.
“I know there is a big fan base for this, “Baldacci said. “At the same time, as I watch it, it is very graphic.”
Bob Williams, the deputy chief of the Maine State Police, testified against the original bill, questioning whether the state should get involved in supporting such “vicious” events.
“The legislation would have the state of Maine officially sanctioning events that are bound to be bloody and brutal and potentially deadly to the persons involved in the fighting,” he said.
That concern also was expressed during the House debate with Rep. Joe Wagner, D-Lyman, arguing that mixed martial arts contests are not a sport. He said unlike boxing rules, mixed martial arts contests can be very brutal, even sadistic.
“I see this as a human demolition derby,” he said. “Now, there are rules, but not rules created by the Marquis de Queensbury but [rules] by the Marquis de Sade.”
Supporters argued that while not everyone may like the events and that some may find them brutal, they are no more violent than other contact sports such as boxing and football.
“I am a martial artist, a first- and second-degree Black Belt for many years,” said Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham. “I believe martial artists sometimes get a bad rap. The word ‘violence’ often comes up. Martial artists are actually a very passive group of people, and the words control and discipline come to my mind.”
Marcus Davis of Bangor, a mixed martial arts fighter, testified for the original legislation.
He wants to see state regulation and licensing with use of the standardized rules of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He described that organization as the “big league” of the sport that has worked out a lot of the rules and regulations needed to oversee the matches.
Davis told lawmakers that UFC matches draw large crowds and often are televised. He predicted the state would see events that will spur the economy if they are allowed.
“The UFC will come to Maine. I can’t say what town, but they will come here,” he said.
Rep. Petersen said a single event held in Columbus, Ohio, was estimated by the Ohio Athletic Commission to have brought $11 million in economic activity to the area.
“The UFC itself purchases 600 hotel rooms when they bring an event to town, “he said.
Public Utilities Commissioner Jack Cashman also supported the original legislation. He served as the commissioner of economic development before being named to the Public Utilities Commission.
“I think this is an economic development opportunity,” he said. Jayson Allain, the head wrestling coach at Foxcroft Academy, told lawmakers at the public hearing that allowing the matches would help the sporting community in Maine and the state’s economy.
“We can wrap a vacation around watching a competition,” he said. “We can bring a lot of people to the state if we do this right.”
The measure faces final votes in the House and Senate before it goes to the governor for his consideration.