Controversial bill could ban MMA fighting in some areas

TOWN OF POLK -- MMA fighting is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. MMA fighting, also known as mixed martial arts, can be seen in the form of UFC fights on television, but fighters compete locally as well. However, a controversial bill proposed could limit where these MMA fights are held.

MMA fights draw a crowd. Inside a cage, fighters use a combination of kickboxing, wrestling and karate. Outside the cage, athletes like Sergio Pettis, Mike Rhodes and Eric Koch train six days a week at Roufusport - a martial arts academy in Milwaukee. "This is my job. I want to win. I want to compete. It's a lot of dedication, and not much free time," Pettis said.

Pettis and Rhodes are rising stars in local MMA fights, while Koch fights professionally in the UFC. "This has been my goal ever since I was a little kid," Koch said.

Together, Pettis, Rhodes and Koch are now fighting what they consider an attack on their sport. Until recently, MMA went largely unregulated in Wisconsin. The result was unsafe, sometimes underground fights that gave MMA a bad reputation. "They think we're meatheads that just like to fight," Pettis said.

A Wisconsin law passed in 2009 regulates everything from the rules of the matches, to the fighter's medical checks, to the licensing of referees. "We fought for many years for regulations so the sport would be safe and the rules would be across the board," Roufusport Co-Owner Scott Joffe said.

However, not every community wants to host MMA fights. The Town of Polk in Washington County has voted in the past to ban ultimate fighting, but new state regulations superceeded the town's ban. The Polk chairman is leading the fight in his community. While he didn't want to go on camera, he sent FOX6 a letter saying in part: "Over the years, promoters set up events that were bloody and unregulated. Since state control was minimal at the time, too many got out of hand."

State Representative Pat Strachota has authored a bill to allow towns to ban ultimate fighting. Strachota says some are misinterpreting the bill, and see it as paving the way for every city, town and village to ban MMA. "Because Polk is a substantial part of my district, I was willing to put forward their request. I didn't think it was going to be as controversial as it was. It only applies to towns, and that's how I narrowly had it drafted," Strachota said.

Even in Polk, some see both sides of the debate. "Personally, I think it's up to the Town of Polk," Polk resident Tom Keith said. "I would hope that the town would say 'hey, this is what we want to come to our community,'" Polk business owner Tommy Kraus said.

Fighters worry where the bill could lead. They say the result could be a return to unregulated fights. "People are just trying to ban it because they're afraid of it," Rhodes said.

Strachota says right now, the bill is at a stand still. "I'm not finding a lot of people jumping on board saying this is a problem in their area," Strachota said.

Fighters say even a weakened opponent should be taken seriously. "If they take it away, I figure they're taking away part of my life, and a way I can express myself," Rhodes said.

Both Strachota and the Town of Polk chairman say they are not anti-MMA, but just pro-local control. Even if the bill were to pass, they don't expect many communities will choose to ban the sport.