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MMA, boxing in Tennessee likely to remain sanctioned for at least another year

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Things are looking much better for the regulation of MMA and boxing in Tennessee compared to just one week ago.

Tennessee Athletic Commission (TAC) executive director Jeff Mullen confirmed with MMAFighting.com that state Sen. Mike Bell introduced new legislation Thursday that would extend the life of the commission until at least June 30, 2016. Before then, the TAC was in danger of being disbanded -- making MMA and boxing unsanctioned in the state -- by July 1 due to financial issues.

Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the news of Bell's legislation.

Bell's bill still needs to be passed, but it's introduction alone will save MMA and boxing until at least the summer of 2016. There is confidence in the state that the legislation will be passed and that a few big shows held in Tennessee, possibly one by the UFC, would save the commission long term, sources told MMAFighting.com.

Last week, sources told MMAFighting.com that the TAC only made money if large events -- like the UFC and major boxing -- came to Tennessee. Medium-sized events only break even and smaller events actually cost the commission money.

Those financial straits are putting the TAC in jeopardy. Yahoo! reported that the closest the commission has come to breaking even between 2011 and 2013 was 2012 when it was in the red $22,476. Last year, the TAC's total debt climbed to $230,445.00.

As Yahoo reported, the law that would have ended the commission also gave it new life. It reads: "Any governmental entity that has been terminated under this section may be continued, reestablished or restructured in accordance with this chapter." All departments that are to be terminated are also given a one-year wind-down period.

No Tennessee law actually states MMA and boxing are illegal. But without a commission, there would be no regulation or sanctioning, which would surely mean unregulated, unsafe events would be held if it were abolished. No major organization, like a UFC or Bellator MMA, would go to a state without a commission.

The UFC has not visited Tennessee since 2012 and Bellator has never been there. But Bellator president Scott Coker brought several shows to the state while he was with Strikeforce and planned on coming back with Bellator.

With Bell's new bill, a cease in regulation has become exponentially less likely. But the TAC's fight is nowhere near over.