Alaskans fight on, but without a commission to govern them

RULES: Promoter tries to revive sanctioning body killed by lack of funding.

April 30, 2011 

Sarah Johnston, managing promoter of mixed martial arts organization Alaska Fighting Championship, said she's tried to no avail to get a lawmaker to help reestablish a sanctioning body for mixed martial arts and boxing.

MARC LESTER / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE MARCH 2010

JUNEAU -- Whether it's traditional boxing or mixed martial arts, competitive fighting is alive and well in Alaska but it's a do-it-yourself affair. Alaska is one of only two states without a sanctioning body for matches.

Practitioners of mixed martial arts, considered to be among the fastest growing sports in the country, want this to change, saying that the sport cannot continue to grow in Alaska without a governing body, and the absence of such rule-makers could even jeopardize the safety of fighters.

"If we don't keep these guys safe, our sport won't be allowed," said Sarah Johnston, managing promoter of the mixed martial arts league Alaska Fighting Championship. "This is fighting; there's going to be injuries. But there's a safe way to do it."

Alaska stopped licensing boxers, trainers and referees in 2002, said Colleen Kautz, a program coordinator in the state's Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. A letter to the state's boxing community explained the reason: There was no money to continue.

The letter asked fighters to continue to abide by the rules and hold safe competitions, but Kautz said no state agency currently regulates the sport, and no plans are in the works to re-establish the commission.

Johnston said she's been trying to get a lawmaker to introduce legislation to re-establish the commission, so far to no avail.

Stephen Waalkes is the current light-heavyweight champion in the Alaska Fighting Championship and hopes someday to turn what amounts to a hobby into a profession. But with other leagues not yet venturing up to Alaska, the 25-year-old, 205-pound Waalkes, who has been fighting for six years, said his chances of going professional without leaving the state are slim.

"You could still have an exceptional record and be the defending champ up here but it wouldn't get much credit in the Lower 48," Waalkes said.

With no regulations, Matt Stout, a mixed martial arts instructor who runs Great Lands Martial Arts in Anchorage, said the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the nation's largest mixed martial arts league, does not hold professional matches in Alaska, and some of the matches that are held by local promoters are poorly run.

"You get a little nervous going to promoters you don't know," Stout said. In a few instances, Stout said, promoters have failed to pay fighters or paired up fighters of dissimilar weights.

The duties of a boxing commission vary by state but Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, said most commissions collect fees, keep results and mandate a set of regulations by which all participants must abide.

"I've seen some unsanctioned events where referees are horrendous," Lueckenhoff said. "At least if they're sanctioned, you know most officials are not (going to be) relatives (of the fighters)."

Boxing too remains unsanctioned in Alaska, although Boxing Promoters Association president Joe DeGuardia said an outside body could theoretically sanction an event in Alaska if it wanted to.

Wyoming is the only other state without a sanctioning body for boxing, although three other states with boxing commissions do not have provisions for the regulation of mixed martial arts.

Jim Patton, promoter of Thursday Night at the Fights, a weekly boxing competition held at Anchorage's Egan Center from fall through spring, said he and many other promoters collaborated with the state on getting the original rules for boxing written, and the promoters have continued to follow them with a few modifications since the commission folded.

When it was operational, Patton said, the commission certified referees and handed out licenses for about $10 but didn't do much else.

"It hasn't bothered us a bit," Patton said of the commission's absence. "To tell you the truth, we haven't needed it."

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