"It was mayhem," remarks Jerry Allen, father of mixed martial artist (M.M.A.) Justin Allen. "I mean there was 30 to 35 people in a bar room brawl."
Jerry, a kickboxing coach at the Indiana Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy, is referring to a cage-fighting event his son recently competed in at an Indianapolis bar. Although he and Justin have become accustomed to beer bottle flinging and bar stool hurling, Jerry no longer allows his son to fight under those conditions.
"It's just like a giant pit fight," he explains.
M.M.A. promoter and matchmaker Eddie Mirabella adds, "It got too out of control."
No rules to be broken
In early April, the Indiana House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 160, which would generate statewide regulation of mixed martial arts as early as July 1. In the meantime, Indiana will continue to foster a bad reputation for its lack of M.M.A. sanctioning.
The fighters face no guidelines. Anybody can walk off the street and into the ring with absolutely no formal training.
"We've seen promoters pull people out of the audience, drunk or not, it doesn't matter," Jerry says.
Fighters aren't required to qualify for any particular weight class, leading to dangerously mismatched fights.
"If a fighter is a 140 pounds fighting a guy that's 160, it's not fair. It's just too much of a difference," Mirabella says.
The fights don't have to be logged in an official record, either. Two fighters can be matched up because they both have seemingly never competed before. Yet, one has been competing off the record for years. The result is, once again, unfair fights.
"Magazines and radio people go to shows and they see two people that clearly shouldn't be fighting each other," Mirabella notes. "One guy gets carted off in the ambulance and that's the kind of stuff that gives us a bad name."
Yet, without regulation there probably isn't going to be an ambulance to cart the injured fighter off in. No medic, no EMT, no security and no sanctioning body to tell organizers if a show is breaking the rules. Technically, there are no rules to break.
"That's when kids get put in comas," Mirabella explains.
Just like most things in life, money is a key player. M.M.A. shows arise every week as Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio promoters rush to make money on shows without the expenditures of medical care, pay for the fighters or concerns for fairly matched fights.
"They just want to throw a fight card together, they want to get the money," Mirabella says. "They don't care what the fights are like, they just want to get the ticket sales."
Sanctioned shows without sanctioning
Yet, in the midst of chaos, there are still some promoters and fighters who take the sport seriously and they are waiting on the edge of their ringside seat for Senate Bill 160 to pass.
Mirabella works for Premier Cage Fighting, an Indiana group organizing their M.M.A shows with integrity.
"We conduct our show like it is sanctioned, our judges, our referees, our rules, the way we do our match-ups," Mirabella says.
After about 13 years of wrestling, boxing and jiu-jitsu training and 12 amateur fights, Justin Allen is ready to turn pro. His pro-debut will take place at Premier's upcoming Saturday, May 9 show, Total Warrior Challenge III, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Nobody takes care of me the way they do," he says.
Allen is sure he will receive the pay he deserves and that his opponent has been carefully chosen by Mirabella.
"We're putting him up against someone who's going to put up a good fight and be a good test for him, a stepping stone," Mirabella explains.
All fighters are subject to a doctor's physical, complete with weigh-ins and pulse checks, before stepping into the ring. Weight is of utmost importance. Opponents must be within a pound of their requirement, or they are unable to compete. Two EMTs, an ambulance and a doctor will be on site, just in case.
Another important provision for Premier is the venue choice for their shows. Total Warrior Challenge III will be at the Adam's Mark Hotel.
"People tend to act different when they're in a different environment," Mirabella says.
If the pleasant, non-smoking environment doesn't do the trick for an unruly crowd member, they can expect to be removed and arrested. Premier has partners in law enforcement, and you might just find yourself sitting next to undercover security. If you behave yourself, you will never know.
Even rude ring girls are removed.
"We actually got rid of two ring girls because they were too stuck up," Mirabella says. "They weren't being friendly to anybody."
All of this is to ensure a family-friendly atmosphere.
"It really is the best show," Jerry Allen says. "I can bring my kids to this show."
"Hopefully we showcase the real talent in Indiana," Mirabella says.
For more info: Premier Cage Fighting, www.totalwarriorchallenge.com, (317) 937-9349.