Massachusetts Approves Bill S 998, Regulating Mixed Martial Arts in the Bay State

Dec 18, 2009

By James Han
On November 30th 2009, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed Bill S 998 into law, making Massachusetts the 42nd state to regulate the sport of mixed martial arts (“MMA”). The Massachusetts Senate passed a draft 35-1, with State Senator Marian Walsh dissenting. Senator Walsh cites the proposed committee’s lack of MMA experience as her main concern. The Bill then moved quickly through the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling, which approved a modified version by a vote of 144-10. The Senate concurred in the amendments made by the House and the Bill was submitted to the governor on November 23rd 2009. The Bill replaces the previous State Boxing Commission with a new and expanded State Athletic Commission, responsible for regulating promoters, fighters, referees and doctors involved in MMA events.
The State Athletic Commission is comprised of five members, of which one must have a background in boxing and another in MMA. The governor may appoint a chairman with the consent and approval of the committee. The Department of Public Safety may expend an amount “not to exceed $200,000 for the purposes of operating and administering the State Boxing Commission; provided, that the monies shall be derived from fees charged for licensing.” All event promoters must now apply for a license to have their event sanctioned by the state.
“Mixed Martial Arts” is an unarmed form of combat that combines elements of boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Its history can be traced back to the first Olympics in Athens where competitors participated in a similar sport called Pankration. The sport has only recently gained popularity in the U.S. with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Strikeforce leading the way as its biggest promotions.
In the past 10 years, MMA evolved from a fringe sport to a booming and lucrative industry. In a 2008 cover story, Forbes valued the UFC at an estimated $1 billion. Bill S 998 stipulates that 4% of gross gate revenues for professional MMA events will be paid to the state in addition to 2% of gross broadcast revenues, capped at $75,000. In 2009, the UFC averaged $3 million in ticket sales per event and roughly 600,000 Pay Per View buys at $44.95. The UFC claims that each UFC event in Massachusetts could generate $12.3 million for the state.
The Bill also creates new safety standards for MMA events. Pre-fight physicals, ringside physicians, judges and time keepers are now required. More importantly, health and life insurance is required for all shows, paid for by the show’s promoters. Massachusetts is unique in that an amendment to the bill allows townships or municipalities seven days to prohibit an event by majority vote of the city council.
James Han is a Masters’ degree candidate in Sports Management at Columbia University. His interest in sports is focused in mixed martial arts and boxing. He is also the assistant boxing coach at a mixed martial arts facility located in New York City. He can be reached at


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