Market would KO Fight Night
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Friday, July 6, 2007

The Iowa City Council, in their usual heavy-handed manner, is in the process of banning the Fight Nights held at the Union Bar, which is really too bad. This is yet another case of special favors for industry protectionism – namely for other bars that lose business to the fights. And while the Union has poorly handled safety concerns, the ban would have happened anyway for political reasons. But it is unnecessary – market regulation would have enforced safety.

The Fight Nights are amateur mixed martial arts matches open to nearly anyone, held every Wednesday night at the Union. I attended one last month – having practiced martial arts for over fifteen years and watched many Ultimate Fighting Championships, I was interested in seeing our local talent.

Unfortunately, during one match, a foolish young woman with no fighting experience who volunteered to get in the ring “just for fun” separated her shoulder when she was tackled by her opponent. She was carried off to the emergency room by her boyfriend, despite not having health insurance. But she had admitted to me in the ladies’ room before that she’d been drinking.

This was a truly freak accident, but it illustrates how the Union has imprudently opened itself up to lawsuits: First, permitting inexperienced fighters to participate is foolhardy. Also, they don’t administer breathalyzer tests before participants sign the required liability waiver, so a court might declare the waiver null. Lastly, they did not have a nurse ringside that night, as they claim to (at least, the guy who most closely examined the injured woman admitted to me that he was not a medical professional).

However, the Union’s carelessness would have been curbed soon enough: Their insurer would have either refused to continue insuring them or forced them to make the event safer. Or an actual lawsuit might even put them out of business. No ban is necessary.

But try telling the Iowa City Council to forgo an opportunity to control others. They undoubtedly tell themselves that they are trying to protect our foolish youth by banning the fights. (I’m sure they don’t believe that their edicts merely serve to increase their own power and impose on everyone else their “enlightened” moral opinions about the barbarity of fighting.)

The downtown bar association’s motives are even more self-serving: It was Leah Cohen, owner of the Beau James and chair of the "Alcohol Advisory Board” who first complained about the fights to the Council. Clearly, every Wednesday night all the action is at the Union, so other bar owners want to curb free competition. They didn’t think of the idea first, so they want to ban the fights. Hardly “sporting” behavior.

Their pretext is the ridiculous claim that crowds watching a fight will spill out into the streets and start fighting themselves, raising insurance rates for other bars, but the police have specifically noted that no such incidents have occurred.

Of course, the next logical step on this path to the Nanny State will be to ban all violent televised sports such as football and boxing from being shown in drinking establishments. Bar owners should be careful of starting down this dark path (but they prefer to regulate themselves into a corner to stick it to their competitor in the short term).

Though some people think entertainment fighting is distasteful, they aren’t being forced to watch. Many of us enjoy watching skilled fighters – fighting and gambling are the oldest forms of entertainment because they appeal to basic human nature. The incredible popularity of the Union’s events has brought excitement and hundreds of new patrons downtown.

Most of the fighters have trained extensively in this sport and understand the risks, and this is a great opportunity for these athletes to test their skills locally. And whatever happened to the idea of individuals bearing the ultimate responsibility for their own safety?

The Fight Nights don’t need to be banned at the behest of “competitors” suffering from sour grapes. A few simple changes by Union management are all that is needed. There are still two more City Council meetings before the issue is finally decided. Freedom-respecting citizens should let Council members know what they think about free enterprise-crushing government favoritism.