Legislator believes boxing commission would have saved fighter's life

June 26, 2012 6:00 am  • 

Dean Schrempp believes that Dustin Jenson would be alive today if the state of South Dakota had an acting boxing commission.

“I knew someone was going to get killed one of these days and it happened,” said Schrempp, a state legislator representing Corson, Dewey and Ziebach counties.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard vehemently disagrees, saying that all a state commission would do is lead to more fights, more injuries and more deaths.

Jenson, a 26-year-old from Sturgis, died May 24 after a mixed martial arts bout at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. According to Jenson’s mother-in-law, he tapped out of a May 18 fight – meaning he ended the fight with a tap to the mat signaling surrender. He later collapsed and underwent unsuccessful surgery to reduce swelling on his brain, she said. He was eventually pronounced brain dead, she said.

Mixed martial arts is a full-contact sport that mixes different fighting styles, including boxing, karate, kickboxing and wrestling. It has been called everything from ultimate fighting to cage fighting.

In South Dakota, mixed martial arts and professional boxing are unregulated, Schrempp said. And that’s something he has been trying to change for years.

Schrempp sponsored House Bill 1239 in 2009, which allowed for the creation of a commission to regulate professional boxing and mixed martial arts events. The bill passed and was signed by then Gov. Mike Rounds.

Schrempp said the commission has two goals – allow professional boxing events in the state, which would serve as an economic boost, and protect the participants of boxing and mixed martial arts events.

Schrempp, a former high school boxer, amateur boxing coach and professional boxing referee, said neither Rounds, who signed the bill into law, nor Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the next step to appoint commissioners.

As a result, the state still has no regulatory body, he said. HB1239 included an automatic repeal clause, which means come July 1 if no action is taken to appoint a commission the bill becomes null and void. If that happens, Schrempp said the bill would have to be passed a second time, setting back the process several years.

“They won’t even talk to me about it,” he said of Daugaard. “I think it’s so ridiculous … when everyone around us has it and we don’t.”

North Dakota, where Schrempp does much of his boxing referee work, has a Commissioner of Combative Sports who oversees a board regulating boxing and other martial-arts type events. Wyoming this year passed legislation creating a regulatory board specifically for mixed martial arts events. Nebraska State Athletic Commission oversees such events in Nebraska.

Daugaard is unmoved by the action of surrounding states. “I say good for them. They can have those fights in their states,” he said.

Daugaard said there are a “limited” number of such events in the South Dakota and that’s just the way he likes it.

“I believe that creating a commission will lead to more of it,” he said.

Daugaard said he doesn’t want to do anything that legitimizes or encourages mixed martial arts events.

As for professional boxing, Daugaard said “boxing doesn’t bother me as much,” but he is still concerned that a commission would result in more “cage fighting.”

Schrempp argues that such events occur already and a commission would institute rules that would protect someone like Jenson.

Schrempp said Jenson had had “four fights in less than four months and was knocked out less than three months prior to his last fight.” A commission would have restricted his participation because of that fighting history, he said.

“He couldn’t have fought,” Schrempp said. “There are a lot of rules that have to be followed. I don’t like rules either, but if you’re going to save people’s lives, you better have them.”

Daugaard doesn’t believe a commission and its rules would have saved Jenson’s life.

“I think people will report what they want to report,” he said. “If this young man wanted to fight, he simply wouldn’t have reported the concussion.”

Schrempp said both Daugaard and Rounds have also told him that funding is a big issue to consider as well. Daugaard said there is a risk with such events that the admission fees won’t cover the cost of having a commission. As a result, the state would end up picking up the tab.

But Schrempp said he has assured both governors that a commission could be put into place at no cost until those admission fees provide a solid income source.

“All we’re asking is to have a meeting with them and set some rules,” Schrempp said. “How can you say it won’t work if you won’t sit down and talk about it?

“They’re just trying to push it off until the first of July and it’s off of their hands,” he said.