Behind the scenes of MMA: Officials working to protect athletes while in the ring

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — Mixed Martial Arts has exploded in popularity, including in Northeast Ohio – leading to increased oversight by the state.

Before fighters head inside the ring for matches, referees and a state inspector meet with participants to lay out the ground rules.

Frank Geric is a lead inspector for the Ohio Athletic Commission, the state agency charged with running the show and keeping fighters safe in a dangerous sport.

“Everything that we do is predicated on, first and foremost, protecting the athletes and making sure we have fair outcomes,” Geric said.

Under the "Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act," the federal government requires state commissions to sanction boxing and MMA.

The Ohio Athletic Commission meets in Northeast Ohio monthly to review and approve event permits. All fighters and promoters must be licensed in advance.

“We need to know who the fighters are, we need to know their background, so we're not going to license somebody who doesn't deserve to be licensed,” Geric said.

In September, the state increased promoter medical and life insurance standards for the first time in two decades.  Fighters have physicals before the event and are matched by weight and skill in the ring. But, injury is inevitable.

During an MMA match in Cleveland in late September, a fighter was knocked out by heavy blows.   A required ringside doctor stepped in to revive him. State law also requires an ambulance to be on site.

Officials kept watch for concussions, too.

“If we see an injury, we're communicating to the doctor, ‘hey, we know this is going on,’ and if there is a concussion, the fight's over,” Geric said.

He was ringside to enforce rules and regulations.

“I'm watching the other officials. I'm making sure the judges are engaged, they're watching what they need to watch. I'm watching the referees to make sure are they in proper position, do they have the proper mechanics?” Geric said.

He also keeps watch over each fighter’s licensed corner man, or trainer. Geric makes sure the event promoter pays officials and pays the required five percent tax on ticket sales.

State regulators say they are pulling no punches in an effort to protect fighters in the ring.

“We've done a lot to keep this sport safe,” Geric said. “And we really safeguard its reputation, both of the sport and certainly of the state of Ohio.”

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