HARTFORD, CT — Despite opening the door to Mixed Martial Arts and changing the law last year to make the state more hospitable to combat sports, no MMA events have yet been held in Connecticut outside the two federally recognized tribal casinos. At least two fight promoters say the dearth of events thus far has been about costs.
MMA blends punching, kicking and grappling — its most visible face is arguably the Ultimate Fighting Championship, although other MMA organizations exist.
Mohegan Sun periodically features events by Bellator and the Marlborough-based organization Reality Fighting, while the UFC and the now-defunct World Series of Fighting have held fights at Foxwoods.
Lion Fight, which offers live Muay Thai (a form of boxing from Thailand that incorporates knees, elbows, and kicks as points of contact), also regularly brings fights to Foxwoods.
AMMO Fight League, which is based in South Glastonbury, currently holds its events at the Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Its organizers also promote mixed grappling tournaments in Connecticut that do not involve striking.
Jimmy Burchfield, the president of the Rhode Island-based CES, said the current cost of doing business in Connecticut is not competitive with other states. Burchfield promotes both MMA and boxing shows.
While he has previously offered MMA shows at Foxwoods, he generally uses the Twin Rivers Casino in Rhode Island. CES also offers boxing events at Foxwoods.
“I had to cancel three MMA shows and two boxing shows that I had scheduled for this year,” Burchfield said regarding his attempts to bring events to Connecticut off the Indian reservations.
“The obstacle that prevents bringing boxing and MMA to Connecticut is very basic — costs,” Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing said.
Larry Perosino, secretary of the Connecticut Boxing Commission, confirmed that there are $13,000 in upfront fees related to MMA events.
“They are an impediment to competing for events not only with the casinos but surrounding states too,” Perosino said.
He clarified that the fees were associated with personnel expenses for the weigh-ins and the events themselves. For example, fight inspectors cost about $1,700.
Detective Mark Langlais of the Connecticut State Police, who is the administrator of boxing and MMA for the public safety department’s special licensing and firearms unit, said the fees cover regulatory and operational costs incurred by the department to regulate events.
Perosino and Burchfield both criticized the 10 percent state admission tax for the events, saying it is much higher than other states charge.
“The percentage that Connecticut charges as a tax on tickets sold is at least double the tax from even the highest states,” DeGuardia said.
The state Department of Public Safety currently regulates boxing and MMA. It had previously been regulated about 10 years ago by the Department of Consumer Protection.
Asked whether the public safety department had the necessary resources to properly regulate MMA events in Connecticut, Perosino responded that “all state agencies are dealing with budget cuts and reduced resources, so that question applies across the board. They certainly have the expertise and proven ability to regulate and oversee events, and have done a great job when boxing cards were held.”
Langlais said fight inspectors needed for MMA could not be funded due to budgetary constraints. He emphasized that this does not impede boxing promoters.
Connecticut passed a statute in 2013 that legalized Mixed Martial Arts. Former West Hartford Mayor Jonathan Harris, then a state senator, first introduced the bill in 2009 that proposed legalizing the sport and argued that it would generate revenue for the state. Richard Blumenthal, while still the state’s Attorney General, presented a legal opinion in 2008 clarifying that MMA was illegal under the prizefighting statutes at the time.
Last year, legislators passed a new law modifying the previous statute to ensure that MMA promoters were not liable for the health care costs incurred by fighters in relation to an MMA match — the new law required promoters to provide at least $20,000 in insurance coverage (including dental and surgical coverage) and $50,000 in death benefits.
The legislation was necessary to pave the way for approval of a tribal-owned casino in East Windsor, which is currently being held up by the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. The state has sued the federal government to get them to approve the changes to the revenue sharing agreement the Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequots have with the state.