JEFFERSON CITY • In a move aimed at protecting children from serious injuries, Missouri is poised to adopt new rules barring people under the age of 18 from competing in mixed martial arts competitions.
The new regulations are the result of legislation approved by Missouri lawmakers in May that will shift oversight of cage matches from sanctioning bodies to the state Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration.
In pressing for the law’s passage, Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, said the changes he sponsored would stop minors from getting “their heads bashed in in a cage fight.”
“They can still train, they can still fight in all mixed areas of martial arts, they just can’t ground and pound in a cage,” Gregory said.
The measure moved through the House on a 112-29 vote and was approved by the Senate 32-1. It was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson on June 29.
Although attempts to impose tougher regulations on cage fighting have been debated in Missouri for over a decade, the new law is winning accolades from mixed martial arts trainers.
Jesse Finney, a former fighter, current trainer and mixed martial arts promoter, called the new regulations “long overdue.”
“It’s for the safety of the sport, long term,” Finney said. “This means kids can’t fight in a cage with small gloves and get the crap beat out of them.”
Prior to the law, Finney said private promoters of fights could allow a 6-year-old to get into a cage with a 12-year-old.
“This law is common sense. It needed to be done,” Finney said.
The changes will be administered by the department’s Office of Athletics, which is overseen by Tim Lueckenhoff.
Lueckenhoff said the state anticipates having rules in place to begin regulating fights by Aug. 28.
Along with making sure minors are barred from fights, the state will issue permits for events and send inspectors to those events, similar to what the office does for boxing and kickboxing competitions.
He expects the number of amateur events to decrease as promoters adjust to more stringent oversight. Among the changes is a provision that will allow the state to track head injuries and bar fighters from engaging in a contest before they are cleared by a physician.
The state also will have the ability to stop promoters from allowing fighters that are clearly mismatched, such as a 115-pound fighter going against a 255-pound fighter, Lueckenhoff said.
“The sad part about it is that some people think we shouldn’t be regulating this,” Lueckenhoff said.