Local MMA fighters welcome state ruling
By BRUCE SIWY
Daily American Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009 11:31 PM EST JOHNSTOWN — Mixed martial arts fighters Forrest Griffin and Quinton Jackson may not be household names like boxing counterparts Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.
But the sport, known as MMA, became officially sanctioned by the Pennsylvania State Department’s athletics commission.
And as local venues begin hosting the fights, it’s likely that these intense physical battles will begin to gain ground.
Department press secretary Leslie Amoros said her organization has been receiving nearly 200 calls every month for two years.
“It’s actually a growing phenomenon,” she said. “There has been a groundswell of interest in mixed martial arts.”
A number of states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, California, Nevada and Florida, already permit the sport.
According to a department press release, the athletic commission expects four or five MMA events each month.
For Blaine Balicki, a former state Olympic boxing champion, Friday’s significance has been a long time coming.
“I’ve been teaching this sport since 1999,” said Balicki, also a nationally ranked member of the North American Grappling Association. “To do this, you pretty much have to train four to six days a week.”
At his Damage MMA gym, located in the former Greater Johnstown Boxing Club facility along Franklin Street, Balicki trains fighters in muy thai, wrestling, judo, boxing and jujitsu.
He said members of his team, including himself, have already fought in dozens of out-of-state matches.
And while these fights may seem like total brutality, Balicki said MMA is actually less harmful than a sport like boxing because competitors can use submission holds instead of striking exclusively at the head and torso.
“The punishment a boxer takes is a lot worse,” he said. “The glove is a lot safer, and the rules are a lot safer.”
Pennsylvania has adopted MMA regulations similar to New Jersey’s: The rules prohibit elbowing, kicking to the head or face and punching at an opponent on the ground.
B. Rouser, a 30-year-old Davidsville native, began training with Balicki about a year ago after hearing about the gym from a co-worker.
“People should know that it’s a sport, like anything else — just a hardcore sport, with top-notch conditioning,” Rouser said. “I’ve done football and wrestling, and nothing has really compared to mixed martial arts.”
Since learning of the recent state-sanction, Balicki said he has spoken with administration from the Cambria County War Memorial Arena about the possibility of hosting fights.
According to Balicki, prominent local fighters include former Pittsburgh Steeler Carlton Haselrig and two-time collegiate national wrestling champion Thad Benton, who attended the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
The State Athletic Commission, which is not funded by tax dollars from the Pennsylvania general fund, is at least one entity that will benefit from the sport.
“It could generate as much as $80,000 per year for the commission,” Amoros said. “And that obviously doesn’t take into account the local economic impact.”