“I think that itâ€™s unfair that they are treating disabled people like this, especially wounded vets.”
The Fight After the Fight
By: Barry Laminack
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations (TDLR) is a state agency that, among other things, regulates MMA in Texas. Part of its responsibility is to approve the rules for MMA organizations in Texas, and then hold those organizations accountable to the approved rules. According to TDLR, on November 2, 2009, a letter was sent to the Texas Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Association (TAMMA) President, Chip Thornsburg, regarding the â€œHeroâ€™s Fighting Championshipâ€ fight card that was scheduled to take place at Ft. Sam Houston on November 14th, 2009 (according to Mr. Thornsburg, the letter did not arrive until November 10th, 4 days prior to the scheduled event).
The letter was sent to inform him that one of the fighters scheduled to fight, Jorge Deleon, should not be allowed to participate in the event. They had ruled he was not eligible based on TAMMAâ€™s approved rules for contest.
The rule in question that the TDLR used to formulate its final ruling can be found in Section III: Fighterâ€™s Attire and Equipment of the TAMMA rule book. In subsection 103.4 (Authorized Attire), item F states:
No metal, straps, buckles, necklaces, jewelry, or other object (including piercings) that may cause injury to either fighter shall be worn.
Jorge Deleon is a US Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. While there in 1996, the Hum-Vee he was riding in struck an anti-tank mine causing him to lose his right leg from the knee down. You would think this would put the brakes on Jorgeâ€™s ability to compete in athletics, but thatâ€™s not the case. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg called a C-Leg and has been active ever since. The C-Leg (Computer Leg) can be programmed (via a laptop) to allow for natural movement of the leg, depending on the sport. Because of this Jorge has been able to enjoy activities such as sky diving, rock climbing, and even running in the L.A. Marathon. Next on his list of things to do was fight in an MMA event.
â€œMMA is something that Iâ€™ve done for a long time. Iâ€™ve always loved the sport. Iâ€™ve been doing Jui-Jitsu for 13 years, â€œ Deleon said as we talked on the phone. â€œIt was amazing that they [TAMMA] gave me a chance to compete.â€
Jorge had his leg programmed to allow for a natural pivot when throwing a punch. He also had it wrapped in special foam and padding that would have the same feel and effect as if it was his own leg.
4 minutes. Thatâ€™s how long the standing ovation was for Jorge after his fight was over (almost 4 times longer than the fight itself). â€œThere were very few dry eyes left in the arena as Jorge left the cage,â€ Chip said, describing the scene immediately after the fight finished.
The fight itself lasted about 1:40, with Jorge losing via TKO. Recapping Jorgeâ€™s performance, Chip recalls, â€œhe held his own. He stood in there and exchanged blows. He got a takedown early on and did some nice grappling. Shortly after, they both stood back up, and he got caught, went down and covered up. It could happen to anyone.â€
â€œWhen I weigh in, I have to do so with the C-leg on because Iâ€™ll be fighting in it. Since the leg weighs 22 pounds I canâ€™t fight as a light heavy weight, I have to move up to heavyweight.â€ said Jorge.
When I asked if he felt if it was a disadvantage to have to fight guys heavier than him, he said, â€œFrom my experience itâ€™s good for me. The bigger guys are a little slower. If I had to face the light heavyweight guys, theyâ€™d be much faster than me because of my leg, so Iâ€™d rather go heavyweight than light heavyweight.â€
â€œI made a special rule to myself, to TAMMA and to my opponent that I would not use the leg to kick. If you watch the video, I never used it to kick or even to protect myself. I decided to do that, so it didnâ€™t make anyone uncomfortable. The referee even reminded me before he said the go word,â€ Jorge said regarding the fight.
He was however allowed to use the prosthetic leg on the ground while grappling. â€œIâ€™m allowed to use it on the ground 100%, except for kicking. I could use it in the guard or mount position, I could use it for triangles or knee bars or ankle locks, but I was not allowed to hit with the prosthetic limb. I could use the left one, but not the prosthetic one.â€
This was Jorgeâ€™s first MMA fight.
According to the TDLR, this fight should have never happened. Susan Stanford, the Public Relations Information Officer for TDLR had this to say regarding the ruling and the fight:
â€œWhen Mr. Thornsburg first proposed the event, he included the materials that the leg was made out of. These included carbon fiber and Titanium. The board felt that there was not sufficient foam that could be used to prevent injury to his opponent.â€
â€œPersonally, I find the TDLR decision offensive,â€ said Chip Thornsburg. â€œOur rules do not prohibit competition by disabled people. For the state to try and tell us that they can regulate, that is ridiculous. We did this on a military base, so that other vets could see this. There were even 3 different documentary crews there filming that night. â€
Regarding the investigation, TAMMA released this statement on their website:
â€œThe Texas Department of License and Regulation, Combative Sports Division (TDLR) has launched an investigation because of Jorge’s participation. According to TDLR General Counsel Brad Bowman, Mr. Deleon’s prosthesis falls into the same category as “necklaces, jewelry, or other piercings” and thus disqualifies Mr. Deleon from competition. Pending this investigation “No TAMMA events will be approved” per TDLR Administrator Greg Alvarez. We will attempt to keep all our members up to date as this matter progresses through the Administrative Process.â€
According to Chip, most MMA organizations in Texas, as well as in many states across the US now use the rules that TAMMA first adopted; rules that where written by Chip himself. â€œThe fact that they would compare his prosthesis to something like jewelry is wrong. I know what was meant by that rule they are using, I wrote it,â€ Chip said regarding the interpretation of the rules by TDLR.
The TAMMA website also states:
â€œTAMMA maintains that our role as an amateur organization is to promote our sport and encourage participation of every member to the best of their ability without regard to race, sex, national origin, or disability. We feel that for anyone to deny Jorge Deleon the opportunity to compete after the incredible sacrifice he made is just plain OFFENSIVE.â€
Speaking about how he felt about the finding from TDLR, Jorge said, â€œI think that itâ€™s unfair that they are treating disabled people like this, especially wounded vets. I did what I did for this country, and I have no regrets, and if I had to do it again, I would do it. There are people like Chip who are opening doors to allow me to compete in MMA. Iâ€™d like for people to have my back and support me. All Iâ€™m trying to do is to fulfill a dream. My opponent was OK with it, he beat me up! I wanted to show other wounded vets that we can still do anything we want, and do it with respect and with rules and with honor.â€
Since the fight, TDLR has again contacted TAMMA via email informing them that they are under investigation, but according to Chip, TAMMA has not been served official notice by the state as to what the violation is comprised of, and until such time, TAMMA will wait for the notice and a final ruling to decide on their next step.
Since the investigation is ongoing, TDLR has informed TAMMA that they will not approve any new proposed events. This also means that Jorge will be unable to compete again in the cage until a final ruling is made by TDLR.