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Part two of Shiely's sit down with Brown Print E-mail
Written by Ben Pherson   
Sunday, 05 December 2010 20:53

Kyle Shiely, a Minnesota MMA judge and a blogger for startribune.com, recently sat down with the newly appointed executive director of the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission, RD Brown.

Shiely's interview with Brown was  broken into a two-part series. Here's a link to Part One.

And here is Part Two:

SHIELY: One criticism has been that there has been sort of an abuse of the ideal of amateur fighting in this state by promoters who aren’t as interested in promoting young kids to move forward but rather to keep their costs down, is that something you see happening?

BROWN: I won’t say I see it happening, but I have looked at matchmakers matching up people. For MMA I go in and I say no this guy cannot fight this guy, he’s had too many fights. I don’t care whether he’s lost or not, he has too much experience for this new guy coming in. I think our job is to make sure that we match them up a little bit better than they have been in the past. The commission up until maybe six, seven, eight months ago was not looking at that, because we didn’t have the system set up, and we couldn’t get into the ABC martial arts area, but now we can do that. We can check and look at the fighters. I look at every fight and we’ll say 'this on is OK' or 'no it’s a mismatch, this person fought pro, can’t fight.' So I look at their records and some of these guys have extensive records and people put them up and say 'oh well this (opponent) is good.' I don’t care how good he is, this guy's coming up with two wins and this guy has a history and has been training for the last 10 years. I hope he’s learned something and his record is showing me that he has, so no they can’t fight. I think that is going to be on us to do the same for boxing as well as MMA and to make sure the fighters are somewhat closely matched.

SHIELY: Obviously the big battle in amateur mma, and not just in this state but across the country, is pay. Where do you come down on this issue and what do you see happening during your term as executive director in regards to it?

BROWN: I think we’ll probably want to talk to the Legislature again. At the last commission meeting we were talking about that, that they need to go to the Legislature. They need to look at what makes an amateur, and I don’t think that the Legislature has a good idea. We need to look around the country and see. If you make $50, does that make you a pro? I don’t think so. My opinion is that we need to take a closer look at it and find out some reasonable ground. To be quite honest, people are getting paid now. I know it. I mean, you can tell me you're not, you can sign off on these papers that you’re not getting it, but if you take tickets, and you get four tickets, and they are $25, that is $100 in tickets. Now, I don’t know that, but we all know that is happening. Everyone is violating it. That is not the reason to change it. I think we cannot expect an amateur to come in and fight, fight, fight and not get anything, and have all of their friends and family pay to come and see them. I think it is reasonable to expect that they would get some money or something in return for stepping into the cage. Especially since the promoter is making money off of them. This is like college ball. Everybody’s making money off these college players, but they can’t take a dime. I think that is stupid. I’m not opposed to amateurs getting some money, I just don’t know what the threshhold is in terms of how much they make. We just need to talk about it a little more and look at what is going on in the country and try and come to some reasonable thing. Then get the Legislature to approve that amount, because I don’t think they have a clue (what the right amount is).

SHIELY: You mentioned that until eight months ago you didn’t have the ability to check the fighters, and I remember during the legislative audit that Scott Ledoux, the former executive director, said that really the commission got no help from the state in setting up, it was like ‘here is your budget, go.’ And we’ve seen issues, like in the Cody Pasquale issue, where he didn’t receive a letter (notifying him of his suspension). What would you say to these fighters to help them understand that it is still a process?

BROWN: It is still a process. We’re still growing. We started from the ground floor with nothing. Most other commissions around the country had boxing, so to add MMA, it was just change a few forms, change a couple of things and take the unified rules and run with it. We had to do everything from scratch. We didn’t have any help in terms of office staff. Truly, Scott and his wife Carol were doing this all on their own. So they did what they could to keep things going, and when we got (office administrator) Matt (Schowalter) it was still a learning process. I think people have to understand when you start at the ground floor it is a learning process. We would send a letter out to people, now we have a letter for them. As soon as they go 'I have to go into the looker room,' and they aren’t interested in hearing from me, but I have to tell them 'oh by the way here is the letter, you are suspended for 30 days or 60 days or whatever.' Or I give it to one of the corner people to let them know. That is an example of something we didn’t have but something we have now. We want to be more intune and talk to the fighters and let them know upfront what is happening. I think we’ll just grow and there will be things we will learn as we go along that will get better. Five years from now we will still be making changes in what we do. We need to become better automated so that we can send things out and do things quicker. I’d like to see it to the point to where you can come to the event and say 'I need a license' and fine, step up here and take your picture, thing runs through, give me your $25 and here is your license and go. We are just not there yet. We don’t have the staff. I am just talking to people about our website, to improve the website. So we can look on there and do things with it that we haven’t done before. So I’ll be talking to the webmaster next week. I sent him a list of things that I wanted to talk about, so he’s going to check and find out what he can do about those. I want a little bit more control for us to go in and change the website and do some things. These are the things that you learn as you go along. Scott didn’t have the time do that. Matt and I have a little more time now that I’m coming on board and I have somewhat of an IT background, even though it is a long time ago. So I can begin to do some of those things to work on it. I think to the fighters, be patient. I think if you look back to where we were in 2007, I think we’ve made strides and we will continue to make strides. The other thing is for them to tell us what they’d like to see, what they’d like to have done, what they would like to have streamlined. So that we’re not going down this road and they say 'we don’t like that.' It is not that we’ll follow everything they say, but we’d like to know what will make it easier for them to register, what would make it easier for them to get things done. A simple thing like paying $100 (for a license) the night of the fight. That is by statute. We weren’t doing that, and we were telling people 'next time you come, you’ll have to pay this' and so now we’re paying it and people are upset. As we get better we can also do things with the Legislature to take things out and we will be able to accommodate people and do things like we should, right now we are not able to.

SHIELY: What is the difference between the boxing community and the MMA community? do you see differences or are they pretty similar?

BROWN: I think there are some differences. The difference is there is really an establishment here and rules and regulations that go back years and years. People that follow boxing, they all know the rules, they all know the regs, there is no doubt about it. MMA, you know rules, you know the regs but things are changing. Every commission is doing things a little bit differently. You go into boxing, it has done the same all over, and I think that is the big deal. You have a lot of people coming up in MMA who are younger who want to make some changes and it's going up against the commissions that have been established that are still trying to find their way about doing things. It is just a difference in that it is a new sport, even though it has been around for ten or fifteen, twenty years, but it is relatively new, and it’s growing. I think different cities and so forth are having an impact on what’s going on, because they don’t like to see these things, people getting beat, it's inhumane, they’re putting people in a cage and let them fight. So I think we’re adjusting to what the public is looking for, because even though we have a huge following, there is another huge group outside that doesn’t like to see that. So we have to make sure we don’t do things that are to our detriment, to make sure that we can so these others looking in that it is somewhat safe. Even though it’s hard to tell people it's safe to put little gloves on people and let them go in and beat each other up. So you have to do all these things and show them the rules that we are abiding by to make things safe and what we are doing to make sure everyone is protected.

SHIELY: You’ve served on a lot of community boards, for people who don’t know about you. How is this commission compared to those other boards that you’ve worked on?

BROWN: It is much different because on all of the other boards there is an established thing of what we do. Our purpose is very clear, everyone who comes on the board, their purpose is very clear. I think with the commission, everyone is on there, but we all may have different motives for being on there, and I think that is the big issue. When I go to the other board meetings, we are all going towards 'here.' In the commission, we’re not. Everyone has a different viewpoint of where we are going. I think we are getting better at working together and getting that all taken care of. If you go to a commission meeting, you can see there is a little bit different agendas and so-forth. That is the hardest part and that is the big difference between this and others. They are more established, people know why they are on that board. I think you come on the commission, when we all came on we know we were there for MMA, but OK, why are we here? We’re here for boxing, OK, why are we here? Plus other boards, you really have to be committed to do other things, going to all of the meetings, being on sub-committees, and going to all of those things on a regular basis, otherwise you won’t be on. They’ll kick you off.

SHIELY: It seems sometimes the commission has an adversarial role with the community. Or they have a very strong viewpoint of what they want done that you have to stop them on. Does that happen on some of these other boards?

BROWN: Most of the other boards, I think the community looks at those boards as being there to do something for them, and they look to the boards to help them. They’re coming to the board and we are giving them something in return and they are thankful for it. I think that is big difference. The MMA community, I think when we tell a fighter you can’t fight next week, he says 'you’re messing with my livelihood.' So it is always adversarial, instead of him saying 'OK you are looking out for my best interest, I’ll fight in nine days instead of seven.'  I think it is just the nature of the game that pits us against each other. It shouldn’t be that way, but anytime you have a commission that is telling you 'you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you must do it this way' it is going to be adversarial. Especially for fighters who want to go and fight every weekend.

SHIELY: We talked earlier about the money issue. The Legislature has said that they will not give you another appropriation and if you are not self-sufficient by then end of this fiscal year, in other words this summer, then the commission will be disbanded. What do you think will happen in this state to MMA if the commission did disband?

BROWN: I think it would have a tremendous effect, although some of the corners and so-forth may not think so. I think there are a number of jurisdictions that allow MMA simply because there is a commission. I think it was Burnsville. Olmeca was having problems, and the (city) council was saying 'they are doing MMA, I don’t even like that.' But because there is a state commission that oversees it, they sort of set back and said 'as long as you guys are going to do what you guys are supposed to do, we will allow it.' I think if the commission was no longer in existence, there would be some backlash within the communities about having it there. There is a ton of people who don’t like it. I know when you go to the events, it seems everybody loves it, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t like it and want to see it stopped. As long as there is a commission, they can come to the commission and the commission will take the heat for all of the things going on. Without a commission, they would just begin to ban it. It would probably be banned in many of the smaller areas and that would lead to bigger cities and I think they may start looking at as well.

SHIELY: How about for boxing?

BROWN: Boxing is well established. Everybody understands boxing. Even people that don’t like it understand boxing. MMA to most people is a very brutal sport. Boxing, although they don’t like it, is a civilized sport as they say. I don’t think it would have an impact on boxing as much as MMA. I think it may have in some areas where they may not want it, but I don’t think that is a real issue, I think they will always have boxing.

SHIELY: We’ve seen, say like in Rochester or some of these other cities when dealing with smokers, you don’t always get support from law enforcement. You can’t personally go in and shut down any shows, so you have to rely on local law enforcement as your enforcing arm and they don’t always support that. First off, why do you think that is, and second, is there some way you’d like to see that changed?

BROWN: Yeah, I’d like to see that changed. I think when you are dealing with areas like Rochester, and I don’t want to pick anyone in particular, but if there is a guy who has been around for years, has a place, and people come there, he’s known in the community, they don’t want to shut him down. So the only way to do it is for us to be there, with little notice, and give it to them, and then the police won’t have any choice but to shut them down. I think the problem is, when we find out it is going on, we can’t get to it in time. But, to their credit, we’ve been sending information to a lot of law enforcement when we’ve found out something is going in certain areas and they have gone and taken it to the venue and said 'you can’t have this.' Here is the law, we fax them a copy of the notice, and they take it out to them. So we have been getting a lot of support from law enforcement throughout the state. I think it just depends on whether or not you can get the information to them in time so they can deal with it. And if you do that, most of them have been receptive to it and gone out and said you can’t do it. The reason I know this is because the venue has then called us or called me and said 'what do we need to make this right.' So we have stopped some of them, but many times it is too late by the time we find out to get anybody involved.

SHIELY: Promoters tend to play a kind of a pronoun game. That if exhibitions aren’t allowed, we’ll call them public workouts, or practices or stuff like that, and the commission so far has let them get away with it. They’ve made some movements but didn’t really come down hard on say Chuck Horton this past summer. How do you deal with situations like that and get through to the promoters that no matter what you call it, we’re going to enforce our rules and our definitions?

BROWN: To use the Chuck Horton incident, I think the idea was not to sort of punish Chuck but to get the message to him. Chuck was suspended and couldn’t do anything for four months. I think the message there was if you do we’ll continue to do this, but next time, since you’ve done it before, we’re not going to back off and let it go after a few months. I think we need to push and I think all of the commissioners need to be of a like vote. If you do this, you are wrong. It doesn’t matter why you did it, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve done it, you are wrong. I think we need to look past the personalities and the people. If you do something, you are wrong and you need to pay the price. Emotions run high, but I tend to look at things in a different view. I tend to look at them as if you step across the line, then you are wrong, and I’m sorry, you stepped across the line. You can’t go back on that. I think we have to be firmer in what we do. If we say we are going to do it, we have to do it. I think that is going to be the commission. We don’t want to hurt people and we don’t want to ruin the sport. But if you have a rule, the rules is there for a reason. If we don’t like the rule, we need to get it changed, but if we have it, we have to enforce it. You don’t have to like it, you just have to enforce it. The commission will have to take a hard look at what it is doing and we do have to go forward with those things. If the promoter does it, you can’t play those games of 'well he didn’t do it this way, he didn’t do it.' Ya, if he did it, he did it and be done with it. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.

SHIELY: Why do you think that is, that you haven’t got to that point?

BROWN: I think because you have different personalities on the commission. I think that everybody looks at things a little bit differently. I think people want to make this commission work so they are looking for ways not to penalize and make bad things happen to promoters. I think that is all good, but I think we have to look at what is going on and if a promoter does something, we need to deal with that, as an individual. Hopefully once that is dealt with, other promoters will say 'oh I better not do that, because I don’t want that to happen to me.' I think if a promoter does it, they need to suffer the consequence. I don’t mean that I’m cold, but I’m just saying you can start looking at things and determine ‘oh he didn’t really mean to do it this way.’ You can’t get into that. We aren’t a court of law. We just have to look at what we have and either you did it or you didn’t and we need to deal with it. I think that is the hardest thing for all commissioners because they enjoy the sport and they want to make it grow and it is hard to come down on people that are doing something that is going to make the sport grow. But I look at it as as rule is a rule, and if you break it, you break it. If I do something wrong, everybody out there will tell me about it and be on me about it. I think we need to be consistent. I’m not sure we are as consistent as we should be.

SHIELY: One of the common internet refrains on message boards, I’m sure you don’t read them but if you did, members of the community will always level the accusation that the commission is corrupt. That you’re just another evil government body. How do you answer that?

BROWN: Well we’re not. I think the commission is there for a reason and I think everybody on the commission is trying to do what they can to make sure that the sport is safer, that we’re doing things and following the rules. Unfortunately many times the rules, there are some gray areas and we have to argue that. But I don’t think the commission is corrupt. I think we are a fairly good commission and I think we’re doing as good a job as we possible can at this point. I think it is just going to take time. Some people think that some people have an enemy on the commission, you know I can’t speak to that, except that most of the people I know and talk to, I think they have the best interest of the sport at heart and are trying to do their very best to make it happen and make it work. You’ve got nine people, all of us are not going to see everything the same way, and there could be people that have agendas at one point or another, and that is going to come up no matter where you go, no matter who you have out there. Unfortunately since we are such a small group, if we were 20 of us, you probably wouldn’t see the individual stuff make much of a difference, but it does make a difference because we are so small, and really there is only eight of us because one person is away, so it makes it even smaller. Especially if everybody doesn’t come. We’re out there in the limelight for everybody to see. When you are in the spotlight, everything you do shows up.

SHIELY: You were a commissioner for three years before this position. The other part about being corrupt is that it is a big money grab, that you guys are all getting rich. Did you get rich as a commissioner?

BROWN: If I stay in a hotel, and paid for it, they paid for it. We don’t stay at the best hotels. We stay at the local motels or whatever. No. The money I may have gotten had no impact on lifestyle whatsoever. It will have no impact on my lifestyle when I stop getting it. Most commissioners get $55, if they take it, for going to an event. And they get their gas and so-forth paid for. So I don’t know how you think people can make money going to events. And that $55 a crack, I tell people and they laugh 'ya right that is a lot of money you are being paid.' You don’t do it because you want the money, you are doing it because you enjoy what you are doing. Your travel time and all of that gets paid for, but no we are not making any money.

SHIELY: For that $55, how may hours do you put into an event just on the event day?

BROWN: Say an event in Alexandria, I have to drive 3-4 hours to there, then I have to spend 4-5 hours at the event. I go to an event at 5 o’clock, because the doctor shows up at 5:30. I’ll be there until 10:00-10:30 or whenever they close up. So I’m going to spend 5-6 hours there. Now $55 doesn’t pay me very much for those five hours. So no. Then I had to drive to get there. They paid for the gas, but that is my time. The money for the gas only pays for the wear and tear on the car, it doesn’t pay for the hours I sit in that car getting there. You’ll never get rich being a commissioner.

SHIELY: Obviously fighters and managers think that the commission is too harsh, other members of the community think, say officials and fans, think that some people have gotten off light. Where do you think the commission has been on the punishment scale, just in general? Too lenient, too harsh?

BROWN: I think the commission has kind of walked a fine line between being very harsh and being very lenient and doing what is right to send a message to everybody, including that fighter. If we have a fighter that has done something, we’re not penalizing him for the rest of the people. We’re telling him 'you fought, you knew you should have been suspended and you knew you were suspend, you shouldn’t fight. So by doing this you’re going to be suspended for six months.' I think that some people say that’s too harsh, some people say that’s too light, but he violated the rules. Usually by the time we get it, he hasn’t fought in two months, we give him another four months or whatever, I think that is reasonable. I think we’re trying to do things that are reasonable, without being too harsh or too lenient. Hopefully when people see what we are doing, and even that fighter will say 'you know I did something wrong, I think the punishment was just.' Most pros are making $200, $300, $400, so they’re not going to make or lose that much that it is going to be a killer to their lifestyle. We’re trying to find what is right. That is why at the meeting we talk about what we should do. Six months, three months, two months. I think everybody is looking at it and trying to figure out what is right. Then the audience is saying 'a year.' So we’re looking at it and saying 'well maybe a year is fine, maybe six months is fine.' What is a happy medium so that we can feel good about what we have done without feeling that we’ve been too harsh on this one person. That is why we like to have the person there so we can talk about it. Why did he do what he did? And everybody was listening to that and trying to figure out should we be reasonable? Being reasonable means some people will think it is too harsh and some people will think it is too light, and that is fine. If we can all come out of a meeting thinking we did what we thought was right and gave the right punishment for the crime, or whatever you want to call it, I think people feel good about it. That is the best. Tomorrow you may say it should have been three months instead of six, or it should have been nine months, but you can’t second guess. You have to do what you have to do and you have to live with it. I think we do that.

SHIELY: Is there anything we didn’t cover or anything you want the people to know?

BROWN: I think the main thing is that we want the people in the community to know that the commission really is here to insure the safety of the fighter. That is paramount. To insure  we have good fights and safe fights, and that we do everything we can to make sure the fighters live to fight another day, as we say. I think we are looking at how fighters are being treated, we don’t get into contractual issues, but we want the fighters to know that they can call us if they have a question. People do call and say “so-and-so wants to tie me to this contract” and I say “you know, you can do whatever you want to, but you have to think about it. Is this where you want to be with this one person forever?” And if it is a good contract, you think you can live with it, fine, but talk it over with other people. We can’t give legal advice. People do call us, asking us where they should go or what they should do. We try and steer them the right direction without telling them do this or do that. The same with suspensions. People will call about a suspension. They have a 60 day suspension or a 30 day suspension but they have a fight that is going to occur five days but their suspension is up. I explain to them why we put them on suspension, for their own health. They can go to another doctor, and the doctor can say they are ok to fight. But I say “it’s your health, so you have to think about it. Do you want to fight that bad or do you want to wait for three or four more days and sign some other time?” I try to tell them why we do what we do, and what it is in their best interest if you are out for 30 days or 60 days or whatever, why it is best they get throughly checked out before they get back in that ring if they are going to go before that 30 or 60 days it up. I try and advise them and let them know that we are here for them. Not for the promoter, not anybody else. We are here for the fighters, to make sure they put on a great event and that they are safe. Hopefully they understand that. I think, honestly, that many of the fighters do. I don’t think the majority of the fighters are against what we do. Until it hits them personally and they have to think about it. I think when they look at it in a general sense, I think they feel we’re doing a good job and we are trying to look out for their safety. We just need to be clearer on that. We need to talk to people and they need to talk to us. Many of the commissioners don’t get to the events, so they don’t get a chance to talk to people, people don’t get a chance to see them. So you have to seek people out in order for them to have faith in what you are doing. When somebody speaks up about something and when you haven’t seen them around, can you have much faith? I think when Bob Stein speaks up, he’s an old football player, so when he talks about concussions, they know he understands because he’s been in that position. But if you haven’t done it or been out there, then I don’t know if people understand or have faith that you have their best interests at heart. That is the real kicker. I’m not sure they fully understand that’s what we are here for. We’re not going to make rules just for the hell of it. We’re not here to do anything to harm them. We’re here to make sure they are safe.

Shortly after the interview, I received an e-mail from Executive Director Brown with additional information he wished to pass on:

I want to add to the question What do I believe my responsibilities are as Executive Director.  These answers are not listed in any priority.

  • To work with the legislature to streamline any statutes relating to the Commission and its duties
  • To oversee and assist with all administrative functions of the Commission
  • To carry out the directives of the Commissioners
  • To work with the legislature to develop a plan to become self-supporting
  • To work with local, regional, and national MMA organizations to grow MMA within the state
  • To grow Boxing within the state
  • And most importantly, to ensure the safety, health and well-being of all fighters (Boxing and MMA) within the state.