Seven months after local music promoter and amateur mixed martial artist Steve Watts was paralyzed during a bout, fight night is returning to Trinidad, albeit in a more regulated form.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” said Steve Fossum, president of the International Sport Combat Federation, which has signed on to sanction Cher-Ae Heights Casino’s amateur fighting event for the first time.
The event — formerly dubbed “So You Wanna Fight Cuz You Think You’re Tuff” — was thrust into the spotlight in April, when Watts fractured his C-4 vertebrae, damaging his spinal cord, while attempting to take down an opponent. Witnesses say there were no emergency medical personnel standing by on site to care for the injured fighter, and a group of bystanders (reportedly off-duty paramedics) stepped into the ring to administer first aid. Additionally, there was no ambulance on site that night, and Watts had to wait about 20 minutes for one to arrive at the casino. (Read more about Watts injury, and his recovery, here.)
Those two things will change when amateur fighting returns to the casino Nov. 15, according to Fossum. The International Sport Combat Federation — which sanctions fights throughout the country — requires that promoters have a ringside physician, a minimum of one paramedic and one emergency medical technician, as well as an ambulance standing by, parked either inside the building or directly outside. Additionally, under its rules, the ISCF holds its sanctioned promoters liable for any medical costs sustained by an injured fighter and consequently requires promoters to secure a minimum of $2,500 in fighter medical insurance. (No such insurance was in place at April’s event and Watts, having signed a liability waiver, is bearing the full cost of his medical expenses.)
Fossum said ISCF will also strictly review the fight card for the event, doing thorough background investigations on each fighter to make sure he or she is a true amateur and has the skills necessary to compete safely. “You’d be surprised how far we look,” Fossum said, adding that his crew taps industry contacts, combs through social media sites and online databases to put together a report on potential fighters’ histories in the sport.
Declining to go into details, Fossum said he realizes some of the ISCF’s requirements are a departure from the way So You Wanna Fight and its promoter, Don Arnott, have been doing business in Trinidad. When researching whether to sanction the November event, Fossum said his outfit did some background research on Arnott and turned up a number of “red flags that we need to address.” But, Fossum said he was encouraged by the fact that Arnott has a “legitimate background of promoting” and that he seems willing to jump through the hoops — and shoulder the expense — of getting the event sanctioned.
The event itself has undergone a bit of a rebranding. Gone is the So You Wanna Fight moniker, replaced with “SYWF Presents: Quest for the Title.” The event poster has also been toned down, with the ISCF sanctioning logo replacing violent images from the ring and a fully-clothed woman holding a title belt taking the place of the scantily clad ring girls that adorned past advertisements. Arnott’s website, taken down in the aftermath of Watt’s injury, has also resurfaced, prominently displaying the ISCF logo. The site does, however, still include the following Youtube video that seems in the spirit of the original event.
Fossum said Arnott has so far seemed very willing to work with ISCF and bend his event to fit the sanctioning agency’s rules. There are a lot of “reckless promoters” in the industry putting on “wild wild west” types of shows, Fossum said, adding that Arnott’s willingness to bring in some oversight speaks well of him.
As fight night approaches, Fossum said the ICSF’s involvement will only increase as it works through a checklist of requirements with Arnott. If at any point Arnott refuses to bring some aspect of the event into compliance with ICSF rules, Fossum said he’ll cancel the event.
“We’re not going to risk our reputation and legitimacy to do things his way,” Fossum said, later adding that he doesn’t foresee any problems. “We’ve even worked with the worst promoters and brought them into compliance.”
Attempts to reach Arnott to comment for this story were unsuccessful.