"Even John McCain came around," Rallo said. "Part of the problem was, a lot of places, there weren't any rules. You could hit people in the groin. About the only thing you couldn't do was no fish hooks and no eye-gouging."
In April 2008, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing the state athletic commission to sanction bouts, and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed it into law the next month.
Pannella said the rules adopted by the commission, a unit of the Department of Labor and Licensing, closely mirror regulations established by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board. Nick Lembo, counsel to the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, testified on behalf of the bill to legalize mixed martial arts in Maryland, and he is one of the driving forces behind the push to establish unified rules for the sport.
The commission will test for drugs such as marijuana and cocaine but not for steroids. Pannella said steroid tests would be costly and said the jury is still out on whether they're necessary. High-level fighters have tested positive for steroids in Las Vegas and California and have been penalized with suspensions and forfeits.
The sport also drew negative publicity this year when UFC president Dana White unleashed a profane tirade at a reporter and when UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar made off-color remarks in the moments after defending his title in July.
Despite, or perhaps because of, such edgy moments, MMA has become a major money-maker in recent years, with pay-per-view sales surpassing sales for boxing matches. Reality shows on Showtime and Versus networks about ultimate fighting have become minor hits. Still, Rallo said he was a little skeptical that the 1st Mariner Arena was the right place to stage the first Maryland MMA bout, fearing it might only be half full. But Frank Remesch, the arena's general manager, convinced him otherwise.
Rallo said the promotion would break even with a crowd of 3,000 and that he'd be happy with 5,000. He's also negotiating with Comcast SportsNet to get the event broadcast on cable television. If the show does well, Rallo hopes to run three events a year at 1st Mariner.
"I'm just hoping at our level to run a nice regional event where our fighters can get some exposure," he said. "I hope that one day, our fighters will get to the next level."
The state commission will receive a 10 percent cut of gross revenues. That tax could be an impediment to attracting UFC, which recently ran a sold-out show in Philadelphia, Rallo said. But he's hopeful that the big boys will come to town some day.
Glen Burnie-based Ballroom Boxing is also planning to host six to seven mixed martial arts events a year under the name Ballroom Battleground, starting Nov. 4 at Michaels Eighth Avenue.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a combat sport that combines techniques from boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (submission grappling) and other fighting disciplines.
Bouts are usually broken into rounds, and a fighter can win by knockout, submission, referee stoppage or judge's decision.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest promoter of the sport, but dozens of smaller companies also put on shows around the world.
Source: Baltimore Sun archive