Erik Magraken, British Columbia litigation lawyer, combat sports law consultant, and deeply appreciated UGer recently wrote in his Combat Sports Law blog about the hospitalization of Dhafir “DaDa 5000” Harris following his fight with Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson at Bellator 149 in Texas.
When a grown man chooses to compete in MMA and is over-matched, under-trained and de-conditioned they have to take personal responsibility for their choices. If they have to resort to rapid extreme weight cut practices to make their contracted weigh they again have to accept accountability for harm that comes from their actions.
But personal responsibility is not a concept which only attaches to fighters. Athletic Commissions have a personal responsibility to do their job adequately. Athletic Commissions exist first and foremost for combatant safety. This brings us to Texas and Dada5000.
Friday February 19, 2016 saw what was perhaps one of the most bizarre incidents in the modern era of regulated MMA. At Bellator 149 Dhafir Harris (Dada5000) apparently had to cut 40 pounds to make the heavyweight limit for his bout with Kimbo Slice.
Harris made weight and was licensed to compete by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the government entity in charge of professional MMA in the Lone Star State.
The bout ended in memorable fashion with Harris suffering a knockout loss not via punches, but via sheer exhaustion.
It is reported that Harris suffered renal failure as a result of the bout and this was caused by dehydration. Harris’ family released as statement advising as follows:
The doctors have now informed us that Dada had accumulated extremely high levels of potassium in his blood which led to severe dehydration, fatigue and renal failure. The high potassium levels were likely caused by his 40lbs weight loss in preparation for the fight.
Now let’s circle back to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and talk about personal responsibility.
The dangers associated with rapid extreme weight cutting are not new to commissions and in Texas, the jurisdiction where this incident arose, the Government specifically turned their mind to this. Section 61.105(f) of Texas’ Combative Sports Administrative Rules deals with evident dehydration at a pre-bout weigh in and reads as follows:
(f) If in an attempt to make weight, a contestant shows evidence of dehydration, having taken diuretics, or other drugs, or having used any other harsh modality, the department shall disqualify the contestant on the advice of the examining physician.
There are two key words in the above passage, “or” and “shall”. By using the word “or” the rules of statutory interpretation make each one of the listed conditions trigger the consequence of disqualification. If any of these conditions are met the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation “shall” disqualify the contestant. Shall leaves no discretion, it is a mandatory consequence. It may be a harsh result but the rule was presumably written with combatant safety in mind.
It is difficult to imagine how a man can lose 40 lbs by extreme weight cut tactics and not meet the above test for disqualification. These rules exist for a reason. MMA’s rapid weight cut injury list is far too long and growing and a consistently troubling pace. It does not need another death on its hands.
California recently passed some of the most progressive weight cut reforms in the sport. Other regulators would be wise to follow suit. The regulation of the sport is only as strong as the weakest link with promoters being able to jurisdiction shop. With Bellator’s president, Scott Coker, recently saying he would be wary of holding a title fight in California given the State’s reform, coupled with the above fiasco in Texas, the need for consistency could not be clearer to ensure promoters don’t have the option of putting profit over safety.