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Official Opinion 96-21

Official Opinion 96-21

November 1, 1996
To: 

Executive Director
Georgia Boxing Commission

Re: 

Ultimate Fighting matches that encompass boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate are subject to O.C.G.A. Chapter 31, the rules and regulations developed thereunder, and the authority of the Georgia Boxing Commission.

You have asked for advice regarding the possible staging of certain sporting events in Georgia. As I understand your request, you have specifically asked:

1. Does the Georgia State Boxing Commission ("Commission") have the authority to regulate the emerging sporting event called, among other things, "Ultimate Fighting," "Extreme Fighting," "Cage Fighting," or "Martial Arts Reality Superfights" (also known as MARS) (hereinafter collectively referenced as "Ultimate Fighting")?1

2. What is the proper legal course under current state laws to regulate Ultimate Fighting?

3. If the Commission does not have jurisdiction, are there any controls and/or state laws that would govern such activities?

BACKGROUND

You have been contacted by fight promoters and members of the media regarding the authority of the Commission to regulate Ultimate Fighting matches. The Attorney General has also received similar inquiries from both government and private attorneys.

My research uncovered several definitions of Ultimate Fighting. The American Medical Association described Ultimate Fighting as:

an elimination tournament that pits experts in various martial arts against each other with no rules, other than a ban on biting and eye-gouging. Matches take place in a fenced octagonal pen before a live audience. The prize is $50,000 to $60,000. . . . In addition to no rules, there are no rounds, no weight divisions, no gloves and very little interference by the single referee, whose main responsibilities are to exhort the combatants to keep the action going and to stop the contest immediately when one man "taps out" - - the hand signal indicating surrender. . . . [T]he competitions are dominated by fighters versed in grappling or wrestling techniques.

Wayne Hearn, "Ultimate Affront," 39 Am. Med. News 19 (1996).

The General Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter 143-651 (26) states that:

"Ultimate warrior match" means a match where the participants use any combination of boxing, kicking, wrestling, hitting, punching, or other combative, contact techniques and which combination of

techniques is not specifically authorized by and conducted pursuant to this Article.

The advertising brochure for MARS events described MARS as:

a series of exciting sports events that match one martial arts discipline against another. . . . Representing the best martial artists in the world, participants will compete for a significant purse in each event. They will compete in their traditional attire as a way to promote the unique style and strength of their individual martial arts disciplines.

1. DOES THE COMMISSION HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO REGULATE ULTIMATE FIGHTING MATCHES?

The Commission has "concurrent jurisdiction with county and municipal governments to license the promotion or holding of each professional boxing match promoted or held within this state." O.C.G.A. § 31-31-2(a) (emphasis added). See also 1984 Op. Att'y Gen. 84-10. "'Professional boxing match' means an event in the State of Georgia in which boxers compete for a monetary prize and shall include kick boxing or contact karate." O.C.G.A. § 31-31-1(4) (emphasis added).

As indicated by the above definitions, there appears to be no limit on the methods of combative fighting or martial arts that may be involved in any Ultimate Fighting match. However, to the extent that boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate are involved in any match and the boxers are competing for money, the match has some element of a professional boxing match and is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.

Although not explicitly stated, the apparent purpose of Chapter 31, Boxing Match Licenses, of the Georgia Code is to protect the health and safety of the public. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. §§ 31-31-4.1, -4.2, -4.3. Thus, the Chapter should be construed and enforced liberally. See generally 3A Sutherland Stat. Const. §§ 71.01, 71.02, 71.03 (4th ed. 1986) ("The courts are inclined to give health statutes a liberal interpretation despite the fact that such statutes may be penal in nature and frequently may impose criminal penalties." Id. § 71.02). Therefore, persons desiring to engage in Ultimate Fighting matches should be made to comply with O.C.G.A. § 31-31-2 or

have the burden of proving that neither boxing, kick boxing, nor contact karate will be part of the match. 2

2. WHAT IS THE PROPER LEGAL COURSE UNDER CURRENT STATE LAWS TO REGULATE ULTIMATE FIGHTING?

Official Code of Georgia Annotated Chapter 31: Boxing Match Licenses is the proper legal course for regulating Ultimate Fighting matches that include boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate and the Commission is the proper body to regulate Ultimate Fighting. The Commission has the authority to direct, manage, control, and supervise all professional boxing matches and to promulgate and enforce rules and regulations for holding professional boxing matches. O.C.G.A. § 31-31-2(f).

The Commission is authorized to license the participants in all professional boxing matches held in Georgia including the referee, judge, timekeeper, announcer, boxer or boxer's trainer, and manager. O.C.G.A. § 31-31-2(e). Additionally, no person, firm, or corporation can promote a professional boxing match without first obtaining a state license from the Commission. O.C.G.A. § 31-31-3.

The Commission has the authority to, after prior notice and an opportunity to be heard, revoke, suspend, or take other disciplinary action against the license. O.C.G.A. § 31-31-4.

If the Commission suspects that a professional boxing match will be held in violation of the law, the Commission is directed to immediately submit a complete report to the Attorney General. Based on that information, the Attorney General may bring an action to enjoin the professional boxing match. O.C.G.A. § 31-31-5(d).

3. IF NOT SUBJECT TO REGULATION BY THE COMMISSION, ARE THERE ANY CONTROLS AND/OR STATE LAWS THAT WOULD GOVERN SUCH ACTIVITIES?

As stated above, to the extent the boxers in a professional boxing match engage in boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate, the laws creating the Commission and authorizing it to act are the proper state laws to license and regulate Ultimate Fighting matches.

If it is possible for an Ultimate Fighting match to be held that does not encompass boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate, such an event would be outside of the jurisdiction of the Commission. There does not appear to be any other state law that would regulate the licensing of such a match. 3

However, it could be argued that an Ultimate Fighting match that is not regulated by the Commission may violate the state law prohibiting an affray. "An affray is the fighting by two or more persons in some public place to the disturbance of the public tranquility. . . . A person who commits the offense of affray is guilty of a misdemeanor." O.C.G.A. § 16-11-32. The courts have found that the

offense is made out by proof of the conduct indicated, under the circumstances mentioned, indulged in by both parties and accompanied by such acts as drawing a razor, making a threatening gesture with a plank, and taking hold of each other, by which conduct citizens are terrorized and disturbed.

Blackwell v. State, 119 Ga. 314 (1904) (This case was decided under former Penal Code 1895, § 355. "Terror" is no longer an element of affray.).

The courts have also made it clear that the offense of affray can only occur in a public place. See Gamble v. State, 113 Ga.

701, 704 (1901) (The place where the match is held must be "open to the general public or to any portion of the public as to constitute it a public place within the meaning of the law of affrays.").

Thus, under certain circumstances, the participants in an Ultimate Fighting match held in a public place and not regulated by the Commission may be charged with the offense of affray. In addition, there may be county and municipal ordinances violated by promoting, staging, or participating in an Ultimate Fighting match.

In summary, it is my official opinion that Ultimate Fighting matches that encompass boxing, kick boxing, or contact karate are subject to O.C.G.A. Chapter 31, the authority of the rules and regulations developed thereunder, and the authority of the Georgia Boxing Commission.

Prepared by:

DENISE E. WHITING-PACK
Assistant Attorney General


{1} Toughman Contests are distinguishable from Ultimate Fighting matches. See Ohio State Boxing Comm'n v. Adore Ltd., 1996 WL 170341 (Ohio App. Apr. 10, 1996). Although it appears that "Toughman Contests" are subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission, we have not been specifically requested to consider these contests. Therefore, this opinion does not address the authority of the Commission to regulate Toughman Contests.

{2} It should be noted that this provision authorizes the Commission to "direct, manage, control and supervise" professional boxing matches. However, unless there is a specific violation of the Code Section, the Commission does not appear to have the authority to totally prohibit Ultimate Fighting in this state. It appears that the Commission could do so only if the General Assembly revises or amends O.C.G.A. Chapter 31. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-653 Ultimate Warrior Matches Prohibited ("Ultimate warrior matches, whether the participants are professionals or amateurs, are prohibited. No person shall promote, conduct, or engage in ultimate warrior matches. This section shall not preclude boxing and kickboxing as regulated in this Article or professional wrestling.").

{3} However, aspects other than the licensing of Ultimate Fighting matches may be regulated by state and local laws. For example, local governments are authorized to require boxing promoters to pay regulatory fees. See O.C.G.A. § 48-13-9. See also O.C.G.A. § 48-8-2 which authorizes the taxing of tickets to athletic events.