Wheelock is presenting an opening into MMA that previously did not exist (Photo courtesy of Bellator).
By John Archibald, Resolution Sports
Bellator Commentator Introduces First-Ever MMA Seminar
Orchestrating a referee and judging workshop is something the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) has long conducted to educate on the rules and regulations of the sport, and Bellator Fighting Championships commentator Sean Wheelock has now created the Mixed Martial Arts version of the symposium. The first-ever Rules of MMA Seminar has been scheduled for August 4-5th at the Overland Park Convention Center in Kansas City, and anyone interested in entering the world of MMA judging and refereeing has been given a potential entranceway into the sport.
“For a long time, I’ve been a pro boxing referee and still am an active referee in Kansas,” Wheelock provided when asked of how the concept of this summit came to fruition. “I’ve worked as recently as the last weekend of February before Bellator Season 6 got underway. I’ve never refereed MMA because I’ve always wanted to stay out of it to avoid a conflict of interest. At the same time, I’m really fascinated by it. One thing I pride myself as a commentator is that I always go up and talk to the referees and introduce myself. I also speak to the commission people.”
With MMA now establishing a stronghold on the sports landscape, Wheelock says this is the perfect time to create a consistency across the board in judging and refereeing.
“Modern MMA is only about 18½ years old,” he remarked. “The way it is judged and refereed is still evolving. With all that in mind, I thought ‘These things happen all the time in boxing but don’t ever really happen in MMA.’ I have some time this summer since we’re only doing one Bellator show a month instead of one a week, and I wanted to see if I could put this on. I approached the Kansas State Athletic Commission, and they were behind it. I got the support of Kansas and the support of the ABC, which is basically the federal governing body of all the states in the confederation that oversee professional and amateur boxing and MMA refs, and we got this thing going. I’m really excited about it. The support I’ve received from the athletic commissions, fans, active fighters, people wanting to get into this, as well as active judges and refs wanting to get better – it’s been really cool.”
Preregistration is now open for the Rules of MMA Seminar, with a cost of $250 for the judges course and $300 for the referee session, or just $400 to attend both workshops over the two days (registration at www.RulesofMMA.com).
“One thing that should be clear is that I’m not teaching the course. I’m bringing in Rob Hinds, who is one of only 5-6 people in the U.S. and Canada who is accredited to teach both the judges and referees course,” Wheelock continued. “Rob has officiated something like 47-4800 MMA fights, and he was a fighter himself in the ‘90s. He came out of Keith Hackney’s School. Keith Hackney is an old school UFC guy, going back to fights against Emmanuel Yarborough, Joe Son and Royce Gracie. So coming out of the Keith Hackney School is Rob Hinds. Rob has refereed for us (Bellator), the UFC and all of the biggest promotions in the country. He has the accreditation and he can teach, so we’re bringing him in to teach these courses.”
MMA has never been the easiest profession for interested parties to get involved, and Wheelock hopes this summit will be the beginning of opening doors for more people into the sport.
“To me, MMA has always seemed to be on the outside with somewhat of a closed door,” he commented. “Well, how does one get into MMA? It almost seems overwhelming to think ‘How do you get in?’ Well, this is how you get in. You go to one of these ABC approved courses, and you’re there for about 8-9 hours with testing at the end of both days. You pass the testing, you get your certification, and then you apply for a state license. When they ask for your qualifications and credentials, you show them that you’ve successfully completed this ABC course, and you’ll get into rotation in most state athletic commissions. It’s really a way in for people who love the sport – whether they’re fighters or trainers or agents or journalists or just hard core fans – and then again it’s also a way for active judges or refs to continue their education because it’s always evolving with the rules of this sport.”
While this year’s version is the first time this event has been held, the hope is that it can become an annual showcase and even grow on an international basis.
“I would love to see this become an annual event, whether we do it in Kansas City or somewhere else in the country, because I think we need this as a sport,” Wheelock confirmed. “I’m not saying it’s the most original idea, it just seems like I beat everyone else to the punch with it. I would love to see this grow. I would love to see this where people are coming from all over the country. Right now, this is mainly a Midwest thing. We have people coming from California, New Jersey and Louisiana, but most of the people are coming from the Midwestern states. I would love to see this turn into a national seminar. Also, I would love to be able to take this overseas. Having done MMA in 12 countries, I can tell you that there is not a set standard practice. I would love to take this to some of the emerging MMA countries – England, Finland, Brazil, South Korea. I’d love to bring in a seminar and get everyone together because there’s still a wide discrepancy. There are a lot of parts of the MMA world, especially in Eastern Europe, where you can still do things like soccer kick to the head of a downed opponent. When the UFC goes into a foreign country, they bring their own people, so you’re not really seeing what it’s like on a non-televised show.”
While the sport of MMA is currently growing at an exponential rate, consistency is a main factor that could halt its reach. Expectations of judges and referees must be the same across the board, and Wheelock explained why an international Rules of MMA Seminar would be beneficial for the sport as a whole.
“The rules are completely all over the place. The way fights are scored are completely all over the place,” he concluded. “A lot of countries have no concept of what a 10-point must system is, which is what we use in the U.S. and Canada. I would love to get everyone on the same system. You know, John, we are both soccer guys as well as MMA guys, and one of the duties of soccer is whether you’re playing the game in England, the U.S. or Zimbabwe – it’s the same game and the same rules. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with MMA. It’s not the same game, and it’s not the same rules from country to country.”
For more information on the Rules of MMA Semiar, or to register today, make sure to visit its official website at www.RulesofMMA.com. To keep up with Sean Wheelock, follow him on Twitter @SeanWheelock.