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Sanctioning a Nightmare in California

Steve Lappen

By Steve Fossum, ISCF / Rev. Turk Vangel, Practitioner / Loretta Hunt, MMA Reporter / Dave Thorton, CSAC

Is the California State Athletic Commission in Bed with C.A.M.O.?

Website Opens Amid Controvery...

Founded in 2009, California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization, Inc. (CAMO), claims to be a non-profit corporation dedicated to help foster the growth of the sport of amateur Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) and to oversee the health, safety and welfare of the athletes that choose to participate in it.

On August 24, 2009, the California State Athletic Commission officially delegated to CAMO the exclusive authority to regulate amateur Mixed-Martial Arts and Pankration in the State of California.

CAMO will now be authorizing the conduct of amateur MMA and Pankration contests throughout California. Applications for licensure of participants, event promoters, and others, along with the complete set of rules and regulations governing such contests, are now available online.


The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) delegated regulatory authority of amateur MMA to California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO). CAMO is run by Jeremy Lappen and JT Steele of the now defunct Pro EliteXC. According to their website, CAMO is dedicated to help foster the growth of the sport of amateur Mixed-Martial Arts.

CSAC commissioner Mario Rodriguez, who co-chaired a committee with associated commissioner June Collision, reviewed and selected candidate organizations on August 20th 2009, said amateur MMA will be enacted to CAMO, which is now capable to oversee it.

As required by the legislation in California, CAMO is a non-profit organization. The CSAC has given all control of amateur MMA to them to sanction events, much like USA Boxing oversees the amateur boxing circuit in California.

One red flag that initially jumps up here is that CAMO has no hands on experience in regulating or sanctioning a fighting sport event. This is simply because CAMO is new and had never sanctioned or regulated a fight sport event until their debut events in 2010.

This issue came up as a possible problem noted by commissioner Mario Rodriguez in a CSAC meeting when determining which organization would finally get the nod. Apparently, experience was not a required asset in the commissions selection process to appoint a body that will have sole control over amateur MMA in California.

"It's California's written law, and it's set in stone." Says ISCF President Steve Fossum, "As much as we would like to have been selected for the position, we just have no desire to be a non-profit organization. We were asked to attend last weeks meeting by CSAC Assistant Executive Officer Bill Douglas. He said the issue of the ISCF not being non-profit would not be an issue.

However, we were clearly misinformed because Mario Rodriguez made it clear that the selected organization must be a "non-profit" organization. Once we realized this, the question was, 'Who do we side with?' Yes, there were issues related to experience with CAMO, and possibly the right choice may have been no choice. However, amateur MMA in California needs to move forward.

So, knowing the history of the other non-profit organization our decision was to side with CAMO. Once the decision was made we made it clear that if they need any help from us, we will assist if asked.

Sadly, I do not see them fostering anything, rather I see them hindering the growth of the sport.

First off, the amateur fighter that usually takes his paycheck straight to the gym in order to pay for the training is now required by law to register with the state. This does not seem terribly erroneous until you read what is required to register with CAMO. Registration costs each fighter $100 and then they are required to pay $125 for a physical and blood work. This is a total of $225 before they are even allowed to fight.

JT Steele

Remember, these are fighters that do not get paid to fight and as I stated already they spend most of their money on school or dojo fees. Maybe this does not seem like a lot of money to you but let’s compare California to Ohio. I picked Ohio because that is where I live and am quite familiar as to what it takes to fight in the state.

Currently, the Ohio Athletic Commission requires fighters to pay an application licensing fee of $20. This plus a standard physical form must be submitted in order to get licensed in Ohio.

Why is it that a non-profit organization needs an amateur fighter to pay $100 just to register?

They are essentially making the sport less attractive to young men and women who are thinking about taking part in mixed-martial arts in California. The other sanctioning body was KICK International out of St. Louis, Missouri. KICK is a non profit organization but was denied their application for the position for many different reasons.

It's a blessing in itself to those in California that the State Commission did not select KICK. KICK has been the center of complaints by many in MMA for years now in several states. It's a wonder they are even allowed to sanction any fight sport at all, let alone MMA." concludes Fossum.

Will C.A.M.O. Kill Amateur MMA in California?

Roy Englebrecht

CAMO has the authority to begin sanctioning amateur MMA in California now, but, it may take some time for them to effectively organize their officials and event regulations. They have just been able to launch a website we could refer you to where they have recently been able to inform the public of any their exact sanctioning fees and procedures.

"CAMO will charge a $2,500 fee to promoters wishing to hold an amateur event in a venue with a capacity of 500 people or more. Events held at a venue with less than a 500-person capacity must pay $1,250 to CAMO. Additionally, amateur promoters will be required to pay separate fees for referees, judges, timekeepers, a ringside physician and inspectors to work the event according to a pay scale already established by CAMO. A senior official, most likely commission-certified to start, will oversee junior officials at the events," said CAMO CEO Lappen.

“The $1,250-2,500 fee goes basically to the funding and operations of CAMO, the running of the website. We will be keeping official records of all the medical process, assigning all officials to the events, overseeing that database,” claimed Lappen.

Another issue being complained about with CAMO is that they are requiring all fighters to use a specific rashguard that they recieve upon registering. No fighter will be allowed to fight without wearing the official CAMO rashguard. Once the rashguard wears out they are then required to purchase a new one through CAMO.

Along the same lines are the gloves that will be used in the amateur fights. Gloves will be 8 ounce gloves. Most standard glove manufacturers make either 4 or 7 ounce gloves. However, there will be no need to hunt down someone making the odd 8 ounce gloves because CAMO will supply all fighters with a pair of special CAMO gloves upon registering. Once those gloves wear down, the leather cracks, the padding starts to become compressed, those gloves are now useless and the fighter must then purchase another pair through CAMO at an unpublished cost.

"Maybe it is just me, but, it seems like CAMO is in the business of making money rather than being a non-profit that is supposed to oversee the amateur fights in California.


Once again, I would like to reference Ohio. It is the promoters responsibility there to provide all fighters with gloves for each fight that is approved by the commission. This eliminates the cost to the young and more than likely broke amateur fighter and puts that cost on the promoter," stated Rev. Turk Vangel.

"If I was an amateur fighter, I can tell you right now there is no way I would want to fight in California under those stipulations. I would instead look to leave the state to fight in Nevada, Arizona or another more amateur friendly state.

This leads me to wonder how many fighters will actually pay up and how many will fight outside the state in order to avoid the fees CAMO is requiring. It could also lead to many fighters skipping the amateur circuit all together and going pro in order to get sponsors and make money off of fights.

Is this what we want from a group that is supposed to be advancing the sport in that state? It should be there job to help amateurs get into the sport, stay as safe as possible while competing and help them to move into the pro ranks by way of great experiences in the fight game.

One other thing I would like to mention that I can’t recall seeing in any other states' rules for amateur MMA is a rule that bewildered me...excessive coaching by a second is prohibited. This is directly from the rules and regulations “A second shall not excessively coach a contestant during a round and shall remain seated and silent when so directed by an inspector. Excessive coaching may lead to a point deduction by the referee, ejection from the venue, or disciplinary action by CAMO.

Fighter Hand raised

After reading this I thought that Matt Serra (9-6) would be a bad choice for a coach in California.

CAMO seems to have gotten one thing right anyway. That would be their name. Due to what the fighters must go through, the money it will cost to actually fight in California as an amateur and the odd coaching rule, they are more of a para-military organization than a well respected governing body. I am shocked that the California State Athletic Commision actually voted in favor of this.

I believe that CAMO will lead to the destruction of amateur MMA in California and it won’t be long before they end up just like their former business, EliteXC." reported Rev. Turk Vangel.

Has C.A.M.O. Posted False Information on Pankration?

CSAC Dave Thorton says that you can go through the CSAC for Pankration, knowing by now that Pankration is not full contact and you don’t have to involve it with CAMO.

"They do not have full control over pankration. They do not have the exclusive authority to regulate Pankration in California. We do not want CAMO in California. Pankration was doing fine until this corrupt CAMO came around. It is Extortion if they try and regulate it," says Thorton.

The management staff of the California State Athletic Commission has meet with representatives of the Department of Consumer Affairs Legal Office regarding the regulation of Pankration in California.

However, pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 18627(a) and 18627(c), Pankration is still considered by authorities as “full contact” (full and unrestrained contact even though there are allegedly no strikes to the head) martial arts and as such must be regulated in California.

Camo Logo

Although under certain protests, amateur Pankration will still be regulated by CAMO (or obtain an amateur promoter’s license from CSAC) and professional Pankration by the CSAC.

The coming months may show everyone if CAMO was the right choice for amateur MMA in California or, an organization that could take advantage of their monopoly in California. Some have claimed their desire is to corner the market on fighter management as California amateur MMA fighters make the transition from amateur to professional.

Under CAMO’s Amateur Mixed Martial Arts (AMMA) regulations, all bouts will be contested under rules nearly identical to the professional version, except for the omission of elbow strikes in all positions. A novice division, for amateur fighters with 10 or less verified bouts on their record, will contest three two-minute rounds. An open division, for fighters with 11 or more amateur bouts, will institute three-minute rounds. All fighters will be required to submit blood tests and other medical requirements.

With California MMA promoters such as Roy Englebrecht on their CAMO advisory board, this may be true, but has yet to be proven. Still, everyone needs to sit back and relax and watch what CAMO does in the coming months.

A large amount of active sports critics and many concerned MMA participants fear the worst. Rabid claims accusing foul-play between CAMO and the CSAC range from anxious amatuer fighters who are complaining about the already unrealistic fees involved in becoming recognized sanctioned members in order to compete, to struggling fight promoters now facing what they say are way too high-priced fees to renew their membership every year.

The good news is that amateur fighters can now fight as amateurs in California, and no matter what all the pros and cons are, that alone is a good thing...We hope.

Needless to say, the landscape for all parties involved in MMA here in California is still changing.

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