Alpha X: The Slippery Ethical Mat

Written by on October 4, 2020

The return of Alpha MMA (AMMA) was most certainly a joy to behold, not so much for fans of the sport as the event was mostly “spectatorless”, but more so for the athletes and all those those that work passionately behind the scenes to ensure that Amateur Fight Sports is alive and flourishing.

Saturday marked the official return of Fight Sports to the local scene when AMMA hosted their tenth event and first since early March of this year. The event signalled the return to action for all martial arts under the umbrella of Martial Arts South Africa (MASA) and was sanctioned by MMASA. The fight card showed a line-up of 15 bouts with four title fights headlining the AMMA main card including a number of the current SA National Team athletes on the card all of which took place outdoors on the grass at the Mall of Africa near Johannesburg, South Africa.

But what should have been a celebration of the return of Amateur MMA, ended up being something far less with some serious questions needing to be asked;

  • Were the amateur athletes ready to showcase their skills following on a long and protracted National Lockdown?
  • Why were AMMA already talking about resumption before it was legal to do so?
  • Why did it take so long for MMASA to look after the interests of the athletes when it was clear that the dew was impacting on the athletes ability to perform?
  • Why did the coaches of the athletes not insist on the fights being stopped due to the slippery conditions?

Are All Promotions Being Treated Equally?

With Level 1 of the SA National Lockdown only being announced on Wednesday, 16 September and only officially commencing on Monday, 21 September – a mere 2 weeks ago – how is it that AMMA was able to announce its return on Tuesday, 25thof August?

Having spoken to at least 2 other Amateur fight promotions based here in Johannesburg, both confirmed that they had received no communication from MMASA regarding a return to action, the the return of AMMA came as a complete surprise to them. Added to that is the fact that both MASA and MMASA have – at the time of writing – officially made no announcements regarding full contact training and more importantly, what the regulations and protocols are for hosting Amateur fight events. The last public notification from MASA regarding “return-to-action” was issued on their Facebook page on July 7, while MMASA still has made no official public announcement regarding close-contact training or that events will be sanctioned. Why then was nothing said by either organisation when AMMA made their announcement on August 24th? Perhaps AMMA were given special permission along with certain gyms and athletes to train in preparation for this event – all in contravention of National Lockdown regulations?

In The Interest Of The Athletes?

With only 2 weeks of “legal” training under the belt, what type of fight-camp had these athletes been through and how cage-ready were most of the fighters actually? The opening bout of the AMMA event between Diedericks and Paoli showed just how out of touch the athletes actually were. Despite the superb striking display put on by Paoli in the first two rounds, the reality was that both fighters literally fought to a standstill in the third and final round with Paoli being rightfully declared the winner by unanimous decision, not that I think Diedericks could have lifted his arms if the officials had gifted him victory. The fact that these fighters and their coaches had submitted names for this event means that many, if not all, of these athletes have been training in contravention of the regulations that according to the Government//MASA/MMASA are meant to look after the health and safety of our amateur athletes.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for events coming back but surely we must be ensuring that it is done in a safe and responsible manner?

Talking about being responsible, why have both MASA and MMASA not issued any communication in this regard, why are some seemingly treated different to others, and what is there a clear lack of transparency by both of these Administrative bodies? Having spoken to both organisations consistently throughout the National Lockdown, it seems that getting AMMA up and running was the greater priority as opposed to the many issues facing the sport.

A Slippery Slope.

The impact of the dew on the AMMA event cannot be understated. If the safety of the athletes is the number one priority for MASA, MMASA and AMMA why then did it take so long for all parties concerned to take the appropriate action when it was already impacting the athletes as early as the Dlamini v Machvane bout? In fact, the dew settling in seemed to impact on the lighting as the lights went out out 5 seconds into that bout!

This became even clearer in the the final fight of the prelim card, with the opening kick from Doyisa in his bout against Nguphane. It was clear that the athletes felt uncomfortable with their inability to stay grounded when launching attacks! Add to that the need for the mat to be dried just over 1 minute into the fight…….absolutely irresponsible!

And still the event carried on with the opening bout of the main card – the title eliminator bout between Nkosi and Acutt. Once again it was clear to anyone watching that both athletes were not able to trust their striking which led to the fight becoming a slithering, grappling display leading to Raymond Acutt being awarded the fight by decision. This was not right! Not that I am saying that Acutt should not have won the fight but how fair is it to not allow both athletes to showcase their full arsenal of skills. In this writer’ opinion, all the fights impacted by the dew should be deemed a No Contest and be rescheduled!

What perplexes this writer most, is the length of time it took for officials, including MMA National Team Manager JD du Plessis – who was the referee at the time – to realise that the weather was negatively impacting the ability of fighters to showcase their skills and quite possibly injure themselves. An utter disgrace and most certainly not something any organisation that prides itself on athlete safety should ever brag about!

Thankfully sense prevailed and the event was stopped, with none of the scheduled title fights taking place. One final comment on this, with so many of the SA National Team on display, it is a pity that there was not a single female fight scheduled – maybe our ladies needed more time to train……?

MMASA Ringing In The Changes

For many watching the AMMA event you would have been greeted with “never-before-seen-footage” of a number of MMASA Board Members sitting cage-side to watch the return to Amateur MMA action. Why now, never before in the last 8/9 years has this writer EVER seen that many MMASA Board Members at an Amateur MMA event! Maybe some of the reason lies in the following……news is that Bertus Coetzee has stepped down, with Raymond Phillips becoming the new President of MMASA while Ferdi Basson has assumed the Vice President role in conjunction with is other technical duties. Also news is the announcement that Jason Brown has been appointed as the CEO of MMASA. What in heaven’s name does MMASA need a CEO for? Methinks this is a case of wanting more cooks without having enough waiters….

Surely an AGM is required to make such broad-reaching changes to a stake-holder elected Board especially as there has been no “official” announcement about these changes which kinda gets one wondering about the ethics involved in all of this. Oh and speaking of ethics, this writer has been reliably informed that Bertus Coetzee, former MMASA President, stepped down from MMASA to become the Director of Ethics at MASA!

The bottom line here is that while it was great to see Amateur MMA back in the cage, the circumstances around its return and the subsequent questions leave a very ugly taste in the mouth. Lets hope that by the time the rest of the Amateur promotions get their opportunity to restart their events, MASA and MMASA have taken a little more responsibility.

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