By Marc Goddard
Last weekend, I attended the Association of Boxing Commissions’ Conference in Orlando, Florida. While most see the United States of America as another country, a clue is in the name: when it comes to combat sports in particular, the USA operates as stand alone states with each one responsible for their own jurisdiction and regulation.
Since boxing, rather than mixed martial arts, has the longer history the ABC was originally set up to operate in that sport. The ABC is a voluntary committee of sports athletic commissions and regulatory bodies from states including Nevada, California, Texas and Florida; they all get together once a year to look at combat sports as a whole, so in recent years, MMA is on the agenda as well as boxing.
In bringing the committees together, the ABC look for standardisation and communication so that the sports can be regulated efficiently. A lot of people don’t understand that in the USA there are sometimes major, although mostly subtle, differences between the states. You also have state law so it is not just a case of somebody saying ‘oh we do it differently here’ it’s actually within their state bylaws and in their state statutes so it’s quite complex and deep. Where combat sports come in, the aim is to make sure that knowledge is shared, common information, databases, medical practices, fighter records; all those kinds of things.
My vested interest is on the rules and regulations. Everyone hears the term ‘unified rules’, a term which came from the United States. Making sure there is some commonality and unification in combat sports as it spreads throughout that country is crucial. Obviously, the interest for IMMAF is to help grow the sport in the USA where MMA made its name in modern times. With respect to the various forms that have roots in different countries. I.e. Brazil with Vale Tudo, Japan with Shooto, Pancrase and other fighting types and schools, but the modern sport as we know it today has US roots; it’s that three letter acronym ‘UFC’ followed by Strikeforce, Bellator etc, which is why ongoing development of the amateur sport in the USA is so important.
The conference wrapped up on Wednesday July 28th and the weekend before was reserved for the officials segment. There are would-be officials and new officials present, there’s an ABC certified class and without wanting to sound ostentatious, there are normally some world class officials there; Mike Beltran and myself were there last weekend. It gives people within the sport the chance to come together under one roof. It gives all of the state regulators the chance to come together.
The continual training of officials, especially in a sport such as mixed martial arts which is still relatively new, is absolutely pivotal. I’ve been doing this longer than most, but I can’t emphasise enough that the need to keep learning remains continual and that includes myself and my fellow highly experienced officials. When I was in France doing an IMMAF training course the week before the ABC conference I met people in there who I recognised from 20 years ago, when the sport was first kicking off in Europe. But even those guys are blown away when they sit down and we go into detail about what the unified rules are, how we apply them, where did they come from, all of the intricacies you need to master as an official, everything you should and need to know. People realise that they’ve been in the sport for years and realise that they didn’t actually know a certain detail and as is the case for any skillset, the devil is in the detail. As an experienced, competent official you must and should be able to call upon this information from the top of your head.
I have a huge invested interest with IMMAF. I was at the ABC Convention not only as Marc Goddard the recognised referee, but as the sole representative of IMMAF. It is relationship building, communication line opening from IMMAF so people start to get a better understanding about who we are and what we do.
Although the USA is such a vast country, California is a standout state since they have an absolutely phenomenal amateur programme managed through the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts organisation (CAMMO), the amateur side of mixed martial arts regulation in California. The United States Fight League (USFL) is the equivalent of the IMMAF Youth age ranges, is very impressive too. Getting the chance to catch up and communicate with regulators and other officalis is good but I’m there pushing the presence and education of IMMAF, who we are and what we do.
I’m writing this from Sofia, Bulgaria following an amazing edition of the IMMAF Youth Championships. I’ve said it before but doing what I do in the sport, the biggest of the big and the highest of the high, major events, world championship fights for the biggest stars is brilliant but it’s also phenomenal and very special when you see these young athletes perform, from 12 years old right up to 17, the IMMAF Youth age band.
I wouldn’t swap it for the world. We were robbed of it in 2020 so meeting up with the IMMAF team; most of which I haven’t seen in well over a year was fantastic. It was the first one back in the saddle for us as IMMAF for well over a year and I couldn’t think of a better tournament to kick it off!