Originally created 05/30/97

Augusta's Ultimate Fighting Championship on, for now



The almost-anything-goes Ultimate Fighting Championship has escaped the rule of the Georgia State Boxing Commission, at least for now.

Tonight's Ultimate Fighting event will go on at the AugustaRichmond County Civic Center as scheduled because Richmond County Superior Court Judge Bernard Mulherin on Thursday shot down the boxing commission's last-minute attempt to get a temporary restraining order. The request for the order was made too late, he said.

A lawyer from the state attorney general's office argued that permitting the fight would damage the state of Georgia by allowing a promoter to sidestep boxing commission rules. But Judge Mulherin said he would do far greater damage to promoters and the Civic Center by stopping the event a day before it was set to take place.

"As far as that's concerned, this is an easy call," Judge Mulherin said.

The Civic Center made $27,000 on an Ultimate Fighting Championship event this fall attended by more than 3,000 people. Tonight's event had already sold 1,800 tickets, and this event typically draws a big walk-up crowd, said Patrick Cumiskey, Civic Center general manager.

Semaphore Entertainment Group, a New York-based company, expects 150,000 orders for the event on pay-per-view television at $21.95 a pop, lawyers said. A cancellation would cost the company millions, they said.

The question of whether Ultimate Fighting should be governed by the state boxing commission to be answered another day, when it can be more fully researched.

In Ultimate Fighting, men from karate, wrestling other aggressive sports fight in an octagon-shaped ring where few rules apply. Some states have banned Ultimate Fighting because of its brutality.

The state's lawyer argued that because Ultimate Fighting combatants include kick-boxers and karate experts, the event falls under the commission's jurisdiction. The commission sanctions karate and kick-boxing competitions. Ultimate Fighting never applied for a license to put on its event.

If this even goes on unsanctioned, it will encourage other promoters to avoid applying for a state license, said Denise PackWhiting, a lawyer with the Georgia Attorney General's office. The state boxing commission requires safety standards for events it licenses.

Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers wrote an opinion in November that Ultimate Fighting should be governed by the state boxing commission. Judge Mulherin noted Mr. Bowers' opinion, but said it is not binding.

Ultimate Fighting's lawyers argued their sport is distinct, even though it draws fighters from the kick-boxing and karate.

"You can't expect the court to be able to determine that fact at a short hearing of this nature," Judge Mulherin said.