Mixed martial arts competition in Maryland is nearly a reality after the House of Delegates passed legislation Monday night that would allow the state's athletic commission to oversee the sport.
The state Senate approved the bill in this year's legislative session, and it now awaits a signature from Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"At the end of the day, a vast majority of legislators realized that this is a good thing for the state of Maryland, that the sport is safe and that it is in fact, a sport," said Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the House bill. "It makes the law up to date and consistent. We allow boxing, we allow kick boxing, we allow wrestling, but we didn't allow this."
Reznik added that the state will profit from licensing fees and the rise of small businesses attached to the sport.
If O'Malley signs the bill, the athletic commission would then draft rules for mixed martial arts (likely modeled after those used in New Jersey) and begin training referees and other officials. The process is likely to carry into next year before events could be organized.
Maryland would join 32 other states in sanctioning the sport, once decried by Republican presidential candidate John McCain as "human cockfighting."
Mixed martial arts has gained mainstream acceptance in recent years. It is best known from the reality programs and pay-per-view cards promoted by Ultimate Fighting Championship. McCain recently said the sport has grown up.
Sanctioning efforts faced little resistance from Maryland lawmakers. Some had little understanding of the sport, but only a few raised the sorts of concerns expressed by McCain a decade ago.
"I think people were surprised that we got it through in one session," said John Rallo, the Canton gym owner who spurred the effort. "But we were very prepared."