Sometimes, the story isn’t so much what goes on once the referee says “go!” as it is what transpires after the referee waves his arms signalling the fight is over. And when it comes to combat sports in New York – a place where the sanctioning menu can range anywhere along the “feast or famine” spectrum depending upon who the promoter hired to handle that stuff – what transpires in terms of a fighter getting knocked the hell out and then tended to by “professionals” can vary. GREATLY.
Last Thursday, a kickboxing show sprouted up at a nearby venue. It was a sudden, almost secretive thing, and I only found out because someone had posted a photocopied flyer in a tucked-away corner of my gym, advertising an innocuous event called “Thursday Night Fights” that could very well had been named “Surprise! There’s a kickboxing show going down that no one knows about!” So I went, because hey, bloodshed and violence, and while kickboxing doesn’t hold the same place in my heart that MMA does, it can still mean a fun night out.
There I was, in the Melrose Ballroom in Astoria, Queens – an event space so swanky and brand-spanking new the surfaces still gleamed – watching five kickboxing bouts of varying levels of skill and intensity.
In between martial arts demonstrations (yes, people still do those), there was a girl fight…
…and a protracted battle between two grizzled veterans…
But it wasn’t until one fighter suffered a crushing, nose-shattering knockout 22 seconds into his bout that the most salient point of the evening revealed itself. When the fallen fighter sagged against the ropes, his right arm frozen and rigid while his scrambled brain struggled to re-boot and come back online, the referee (a former kickboxing champ) was there instantly, and when the fighter’s broken nose began leaking like a faucet, the ringside physician (an ER doctor in his day job) was there, too. Outside of the ring, two paramedics brought over a gurney.
As discerning fans of UFC events, we take for granted that doctors and paramedics and gurneys are provided for injured fighters when they are claimed in state-sanctioned battle, but in New York – where no regulations dictating oversight or standard of care exist – these things are luxuries that the various third-party sanctioning organizations don’t always provide. No third-party sanctioning organization operating in New York is perfect (more on that topic another time), but they’re not all equal, either.
In the last few months, I’ve been to events that had nothing for a concussed fighter but a pat on the back and maybe cab fair to the nearest emergency room, and events where the only medical staff around were EMTs who had to be told by the announcer via the PA system to come to the cage because someone had been KO’d. In terms of size and scope, Thursday Night Fights was barely a blip on the New York State combat sports radar, but damn did they get the “safeguarding the fighters’ safety” thing right.