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Sanctioning by state won't be quick

The Baltimore Sun

John Rallo and the lawyers he works with are optimistic that mixed martial arts will be sanctioned in Maryland.

They're just not sure the process will go as quickly as hoped.

Many state athletic commissions have the power to allow the sport without legislative action. But that's not the case in Maryland.

Here, the General Assembly would have to give the athletic commission authority to govern mixed martial arts. The athletic commission presides over boxing, kick boxing and wrestling.

In the next week, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, and Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat, plan to introduce bills that would give the commission oversight on mixed martial arts.

Reznik, a martial artist since childhood, said he's not sure whether the bills will meet resistance. He became aware of the issue when he heard Rallo on local radio. He realized there were high-level fighters in Maryland who had to go to New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania to show their abilities.

"We have students here who want to move on with this as a career path, and they have to go out of state to do it," he said.

Reznik argues that small businesses, such as Rallo's Ground Control Academy in Canton, will benefit from the sanctioning, as will the state when promoters pay fees to hold fight cards.

Rallo and attorney Ed Hitchcock of Gordon Feinblatt anticipate questions about safety.

So they'll be armed with studies that have found mixed martial arts less dangerous than boxing, which has long been allowed in Maryland.

If their pitch works with the General Assembly, the ball would be in the athletic commission's court. The panel would have to devise rules to govern the sport. (They would probably be based on the New Jersey rules, used by Ultimate Fighting Championship in many places.) It would then have to hold public hearings.

Reznik said the athletic commission will strive to maintain its excellent safety record by requiring fighters to be well trained and by preventing promoters from scheduling dangerous mismatches.

But Hitchcock said that even if all goes well, the sanctioning process could take until late this year or early next year.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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