AUGUSTA, Maine — While acknowledging his early reservations, Gov. John Baldacci on Monday used a ceremony in his office to praise legislation that clears the way for mixed martial arts competitions in the state.
“When I first learned of the legislation, I was a little skeptical,” he said at a ceremonial signing of the bill in his office. “I have not followed mixed martial arts as it developed into one of the most popular and fast-growing sports, but I have begun to watch it and appreciate it more for the training that people go through.”
The Baldacci administration opposed the initial proposal because it placed oversight in the Department of Public Safety and lacked details to both define the sport and establish how to regulate it.
The new law that Baldacci praised Monday sets up the Mixed Martial Arts Authority of Maine and defines mixed martial arts as a combative sport for compensation that features a mixture of karate, jiujitsu, Muay Thai, tae kwon do, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, judo, and striking and grappling techniques.
The authority will establish rules to oversee the sport.
“From the perspective of the state the most important part of the new law is to guarantee we have the rules and oversight to protect participants and fans,” Baldacci said.
Rep. Matthew Petersen, D-Rumford, sponsored the measure and said once the authority members are named, he expects there will be events in the state based on conversations with officials at Ultimate Fighting Championship, with some of them attending the ceremonial bill signing.
“We’re very excited to bring an event here, hopefully in 2010,” Petersen said. “Sixty percent of those dollars spent at an event come from out of state.”
Petersen said there is great economic development potential from the sport with fans coming to Maine to watch events that could be televised around the world. He stressed the events would not cost the state and would bolster state revenues.
“It’s nice to have an industry sector come and they didn’t want tax incentives, they didn’t want money, they didn’t tell us about the bad challenges we have,” said Rep. Nancy Smith, D-Monmouth, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Business Research and Economic Development Committee. “They said, ‘Please regulate us, and we will come.’”
She said the panel supported the legislation as a way to stimulate economic development without the state having to subsidize the effort. She said having the sport in Maine will help the state recover from the recession.
But not everyone has been enthusiastic about the prospect of the fights being held in the state.
In March, 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.
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.
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.
Marcus Davis of Bangor, a nationally recognized mixed martial arts fighter, testified for the legislation and told lawmakers at the March hearing on the measure that UFC matches draw large crowds and often are televised, and predicted the events will help the state’s economy.
Under the legislation, the new authority has to establish rules by March 1, 2010. Events may start on that date if all rules are in place.