A state commission to oversee boxing and mixed martial arts might be getting up from the mat in South Dakota. A bill in the legislature would revive the commission in an effort to keep fighters safe in the octagon.
A 26-year-old Sturgis mixed martial arts fighter, Dustin Jenson, died after suffering a seizure following a bout in Rapid City last spring. A Sioux Falls lawmaker says tragedies like that might be avoided if there's more oversight of the sport.
State Senator Mark Johnston says South Dakota has for too long looked the other way when fighters come to blows behind the cages.
"There are unregulated cage fights going on throughout South Dakota regularly. Unfortunately, there have been some athletes that have been seriously injured," Johnston said.
Johnston wants medical experts appointed to his proposed commission to help ensure the safety of the fighters. Johnston says a commission, sanctioning the sport, will also open up more economic opportunities for future mixed martial arts events in the state.
"It's a huge pay-per-view venue, like it or not, it's a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States," Johnston said.
Former world-class amateur boxer Jeffrey LeMair testified before a legislative subcommittee five years ago in favor of a commission hoping to bring pro boxing matches to South Dakota. The legislature passed a bill in 2009 but the law expired last summer, with no commissioners ever being appointed. LeMair hopes a new commission will emerge this year, although he's no fan of MMA.
"They're incredible athletes, but I'm not in the mixed aspect of it. I think it's barbaric. However, I know there are people who will argue heatedly with me in that regard," LeMair said.
While lawmakers may argue the merits of the bill, LeMair hopes a commission will get final approval to make sure the integrity of pro boxing and mixed martial arts has a fighting chance.
Governor Dennis Daugaard's office tells us the governor did not appoint any members to the commission because the 2009 bill had flaws in it, including funding. But Johnston says under his bill, the commission will not cost taxpayers anything because it would be funded through profits of fight events.