Much-maligned MMA promotion Xplode Fight Series is in search of a sanctioning body once again.
After agreeing to terms with the United States Mixed Martial Arts Federation (UMMAF) in September, XFS owner Gregg Sharp has dissolved the partnership, citing that UMMAF reneged on its original deal and changed its terms with regards to cost.
Xplode Fight Series runs unsanctioned shows on the San Pasqual Native American reservation near San Diego and is not required to be regulated by the California State Athletic Commission.
The organization has come under the gun in recent months for egregious matchmaking and potentially unsafe practices. Multiple fighters told MMA Fighting in a three-part investigative piece that XFS did not require competitors to have blood work or medicals done. Blood work is required by commissions under the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) in order to make sure a fighter does not have a communicable disease. Medicals are done to rule out the possibility of a fighter having a previous injury that would make it unsafe for him or her to compete in a fight.
CSAC executive officer Andy Foster said last month he would no longer be recognizing bouts conducted in unsanctioned events like Xplode when he vets the matchmaking of licensed events in the state.
Sharp said in August that he had been seeking out a third-party sanctioning body for months, but was not willing to accept CSAC sanctioning due to the high cost. XFS found a willing sanctioning partner in UMMAF and a deal was brokered early last month. UMMAF was to begin sanctioning XFS in November.
Things changed, though, over the last few weeks. UMMAF expressed its desire to uphold the standards of CSAC's medical requirements, which not only include blood work and medicals, but also an MRI and neurological exam. California is one of only a handful of states that require the latter two procedures.
As he said he informed UMMAF's director of operations Ryan Bruggueman and regional director Ralph Cook, Sharp was only willing to require fighters to submit blood work and medicals, because MRIs and neurological exams would be too expensive for his fighters, and he would be unable to cover the costs.
"This was the basis of our agreement and UMMAF entered into this knowing that this requirement was the only acceptable position that we would have," Sharp told MMA Fighting in an email. "Announcements were made due to this agreement and we moved forward."
Bruggueman told MMA Fighting it was never his intention to skirt the rules of the state in which his organization was providing sanctioning. UMMAF announced in late September that it would be adopting the medical requirements of CSAC. Sharp said he dissolved with deal with cause.
"Me going into California, regardless of whether it's on an Indian reservation or not, undercutting what California's requirements would be for a pro fighter goes against everything we told the ABC we would do," Bruggueman said. "I was not prepared to do that. We need the ABC. They are a critical component in the United States for unifying rules and requirements."
Bruggueman was present at the ABC convention over the summer in San Diego and started a dialogue there with CSAC executive officer Andy Foster. Bruggueman said if the ABC didn't recognize a promotion sanctioned by UMMAF because it didn't meet the state medical requirements, it wouldn't do anyone any good.
"One of the things we have told Gregg repeatedly is that sanctioning is only as good as the recognition that comes with it," Bruggueman said. ... "In the end, when it comes to having the ABC recognize the results, recognize any type of medical suspensions or anything like that, we need the ABC. We need to be able to work with the ABC. And in California, the ABC is Andy Foster."
Bruggueman said UMMAF exhausted its options with Xplode. He said the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas was willing to do MRIs for Xplode fighters at little or no cost to them if they agreed to participate in their ongoing brain trauma study. Bruggueman also said he was willing to work with Sharp on sanctioning fees given that UMMAF is a non-profit organization. He just would not budge on the medical requirements.
"I'm not going to go in and undercut a state athletic commission's requirements just because of cost," Bruggueman said. "I'm not gonna do that. It puts the state athletic commissions in a very bad spot. I need to be able to work with them. I need to be able to uphold that end of the agreement."
There was also an element of self-preservation, Bruggueman acknowledged. If UMMAF didn't uphold California's standards and something bad happened at an XFS event, it would be disastrous for the burgeoning organization.
"Gregg just has way too much bad press out there ... that if he has a fighter injured in California, regardless of whether it's on an Indian reservation or not, if a fighter gets hurt out there, the story is going to be 'UMMAF used subpar medical requirements as required by the state of California,'" Bruggueman said. "That sets a very, very bad precedent."
Sharp said UMMAF tried to alter the agreement for the wrong reasons -- for itself and not for fighter safety.
"UMMAF changed their policy to convenience their existence and not the fighter or promoter," Sharp said.
Sharp also said UMMAF is hypocritical, because Bruggueman admitted that he would not require XFS fighters to get MRIs or neurological tests if it existed in a state that did not require it, like Iowa.
"If you truly believe that there is a clear medical standard that should be adhered to then stand up and account for yourself and your organization and make the change across the board," Sharp said. "There is plenty of hypocrisy in MMA, this just adds to it in my opinion."
Bruggueman said that he felt UMMAF was bound by the regulations of each individual state.
"If the speed limit in California is 75 and the speed limit in Iowa is 65, does that mean one state is less concerned about the safety of drivers than the other?" Bruggueman said.
Sharp said he has placed calls to a few "recognized tribal commissions" in order to start a dialogue about sanctioning Xplode Fight Series in 2016.
"It is my/XFS intent to figure this out so that the fighter as well as my promotion are regulated fairly and affordably," Sharp said.
Bruggueman believes this whole situation proves that UMMAF is not just looking to make a quick buck and provide subpar regulation.
"I think what this proves is that we're not out for the money," he said. "We never have been. We're a non-profit organization that wants to work with the ABC, not against them. For somebody like Gregg not to understand the benefit of that is really, really disappointing. As an organization, we could not risk somebody getting hurt and being tied to that because we undercut a state athletic commission. It'll just never happen. I'll never let it happen."