A state Assembly committee unanimously approved a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would regulate all unarmed combat sports involving blows to the head.
The votes comes as a new study is released suggesting there are more injuries in kickboxing than other combat sports, including mixed martial arts.
The bill voted on Tuesday was introduced following the death of Dennis Munson Jr., who collapsed after his amateur debut in an unregulated kickboxing bout at the Eagles Club in Milwaukee in March 2014. Munson, 24, died of complications from head trauma, the medical examiner ruled.
The Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations voted 14-0 to approve the bill, which received a hearing this month. State Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford), who was excused, was not present and didn’t vote.
Officials in charge of Munson’s three-round bout failed to stop the match despite what a dozen independent experts who reviewed the fight video at the request of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said were obvious signs of distress.
Wisconsin regulates boxing and mixed martial arts, which combines various disciplines including kickboxing, but does not regulate kickboxing as a stand-alone sport.
The bill’s author, Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), said Munson died under “circumstances that should have constituted negligence” and added that the lack of state oversight gave Munson’s family no legal remedy to seek justice.
“The circumstances surrounding his death are beyond heartbreaking. This legislation will put in place important, common sense protocols that I hope will prevent future tragedies in the ring.” Kleefisch said.
Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), a co-sponsor, credited Kleefisch for his leadership on the bill. As a fan himself of martial arts, Brostoff added, “the safety of competitors is a top priority.”
State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), a co-sponsor along with state Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), said the vote shows legislators can act in a bipartisan way and called it “lifesaving legislation.”
“I’m hopeful this is a sign of votes to come and that soon the protections we put in place for mixed martial arts fighters will also protect those who compete in kickboxing and other unarmed combat sports,” Hansen said.
The bill still must go through the Assembly and through the Senate early next year before it would head to the governor’s desk.
In emotional testimony at a hearing on the bill this month, Munson’s sister, Brandy Gee, said, “I don’t want my brother to have died for nothing.”
The study, published late last week in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, is the largest done on kickboxing injuries. Author Reidar P. Lystad, of Central Queensland University in Sydney, Australia, examined 481 fighters in 57 events in Nevada. He found 380 injuries.
“It highlights and elucidates that there is substantial injury problem present in the sport of kickboxing,” the study says.
Lystad theorized that there is a greater rate of injuries in kickboxing because it has more striking than mixed martial arts, which also features a wrestling component. It noted the use of feet possibly increases injuries for kickboxers compared with boxers.
Lystad cautions his study has limits and called for better collection of data in studying combat sports.
“The scarcity of high-quality epidemiological data in kickboxing, especially pertaining to the severity of injuries, underscores the urgent need for further research, whereupon evidence-informed sport safety and injury prevention policies can be developed.”
by John Diedrich. This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.