Tennessee's biggest fight this year won't be in a cage or ring. It'll be in the political arena.
Tennessee Athletic Commission executive director Jeff Mullen confirmed with MMAFighting.com on Monday that the commission will be disbanded by July 1. New legislation needs to be introduced by next month to save the commission -- and MMA, boxing and kickboxing in the state. If not, all those combat sports will be illegal and unregulated in Tennessee.
"If nothing is done, if new legislation isn't passed by Feb. 12, the commission will go away until July 1," Mullen said.
Mullen could not comment any further on the situation. Marc Ratner, the vice president of regulatory affairs for the UFC, told MMAFighting.com that the UFC is attempting to give an assist.
"We're very away of the situation and working to help the commission," Ratner said.
Currently, the only state without legal professional mixed martial arts is New York.
Sources with knowledge of the situation in Tennessee told MMAFighting.com that not renewing the Tennessee Athletic Commission, which was implemented in 2008, would be a cost-cutting move. The commission is reliant on larger shows -- like the UFC, Bellator or a big boxing card -- to make its budget. Regional shows break even and small shows actually lose money. If there is no large show in a given year, there isn't enough money to pay for the day-to-day operations of the commission.
The UFC has not visited Tennessee since Jan. 20, 2012 for UFC on FX: Guillard vs. Miller. Before that, UFC 107: Penn vs. Sanchez was held in Memphis on Dec. 12, 2009. Bellator has never been to Tennessee, though it did its pay-per-view last May 17 in nearby Southaven, Miss. New Bellator president Scott Coker brought several shows in Tennessee when he ran Strikeforce, including a big CBS event on April 17, 2010 featuring Dan Henderson against Jake Shields in the main event.
"The news that MMA and boxing will cease to exist in Tennessee is extremely unfortunate," Coker told MMAFighting.com in a statement. "I've been involved with martial arts for 30-plus years and have fond memories of successful events taking place in cities like Nashville, where they've got a world-class venue in the Bridgestone Arena. Since returning to MMA with Bellator, Nashville was definitely a city that I had on my radar for future events and it would really be a shame for all parties, especially the fans, if MMA was no longer allowed in ‘The Volunteer State.'"
The UFC's first trip to Tennessee, back in 2009, actually netted what was the best attendance for a Fight Night event at the time (10,267).
The website Nashville Sports Mix has instructions for state residents to help in the battle to keep MMA and boxing legal.