August 16, 2005
Sioux Falls, S.D. — The Sioux Falls City Council Monday night voted for the first time to regulate a sporting event.
Cage fighting goes by the commercial names of Ultimate Fighting or Mixed Martial Arts. There are various forms depending on who sets up the fight.
Cage fighting is popping up all over the Midwest. Some organizers rely on volunteer fighters from the audience. Others use trained fighters who travel a circuit around the Midwest.
For Sioux Falls City Councilman Vernon Brown, it's a disturbing sport to watch.
"It was guys in this cage that's about the size of an over- sized trampoline, just wailing on each other," said Brown. "No style, no form. The thing that bothered me the most was watching the crowd."
Since alcohol is often sold at the events, Brown says he fears the crowds could get out of control.
Brown co-sponsored the city ordinance, which bans cage fighting from city property and from bar parking lots. It requires promoters to get a police permit and to prove they have liability insurance. It also requires a paramedic be on duty at ringside.
The ordinance limits where cage fighting can occur within the city of Sioux Falls. The options are hotels and the county-operated fairgrounds.
Chris Christianson, owner of The Cage, Inc., organizes and promotes cage fighting in Sioux Falls. He says 700 people show up at his events.
Christianson told the mayor and city council that his fights don't get out of hand. He hires extra security for crowd control, and says the fights are between people trained in at least one form of martial arts. He says there are many ways to stop a fight before a fighter is seriously injured.
"Yes, people do get a nosebleed occasionally. Yes, someone may fracture their hand. These things do happen," Christianson said. "Competitors -- whenever they feel a danger or are at risk -- all they have to do is verbally tell the referee they had enough. Tap on the opponent or the cage."
Christianson was disappointed the regulations passed. He's waiting to see how much the liability insurance will cost. He says Mixed Martial Arts is a legitimate professional sport, and if the city is going to regulate cage fighting then the city should regulate all contact sports.
City Councilman Vernon Brown doesn't see the sport in cage fighting. "Boxing has rules, it has form and style to it," said Brown. "But the rules to this sport are, 'No gouging of the eyes, no fish hook to the mouth, no fingers in orifices.' Those are the rules. Those aren't rules. That's street fighting in a cage."
Shayna Baszler, a professional fighter, disagrees. Her record is 13-1, but she doesn't participate in local fights because she can't find an opponent.
"I am an athlete. I'm a martial artist. I have no criminal record, I don't drink or smoke. I went to college. I have a regular job," Baszler told the council. "We are not dumb delinquent drunks that love violence and beating people up."
Baszler says her next fight is scheduled in September in St. Paul.
The Sioux Falls ordinance regulating cage fighting ended in a tie vote, with the mayor casting the deciding vote in favor. Four council members didn't support it.
Councilman Darin Smith says the new law prohibits Sioux Falls from hosting professional Ultimate Fighters. He asked the authors whether they'd allow any cage fighting in the city owned arena.
"I'll admit, I follow the Ultimate Fighting contest on channel 60 the last couple of months and I'm somewhat of a fan," Smith said. "If the professionals came to the arena -- and I mean the professionals at the highest level, and doing what they do on television -- if they came to the arena, would you be opposed to that?"
Sponsors of the ordinance responded to Smith, by refusing to change any part of the regulation.
The regulations are only effective within the city limits of Sioux Falls. Now officials in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties are looking at adopting similar regulations.