ATLANTA — Mixed martial arts is a violent, often bloody sport. It may surprise you that kids as young as 8 years old are getting in the cage and fighting.
MMA involves body blows, kicks and wrestling. So does kids’ cage fighting.
“What do you love about MMA?” Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein asked 15-year-old fighter Sean Goldsby.
“The fight. Just … I love being in that cage,” Sean said.
The 15-year-old already has two years of experience competing in youth MMA tournaments.
The Butts County teenager even fought at the youth world championship in Bulgaria in 2021.
Abigail Alvazrez lives in California and started competing when she was just 7 years old.
“It was pretty intense because it was just a bunch of little kids fighting each other,” Alvazrez said.
Kids ages 8 to 17 can participate in youth MMA league competitions but it’s not the same as the UFC flights you see on TV. Blows to the head are not allowed.
“If a head kick comes ... it’s a penalty and you know they kind of cut the fight, you reset, they go again,” Sean said.
The kids wear protective gear.
“We have headgear on, safe clothes, big shin pads, cup, everything you need to stay safe,” Sean said.
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Sean’s father Bryan Goldsby is a former professional MMA fighter and one of his coaches.
“It’s safer than football, safer than boxing. It is very safe. No concussions, no strikes to the head,” Goldsby said.
But sometimes, accidental blows to the head happen.
Dr. Jasmine Forte is a neurologist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She said concussions are serious.
“A concussion should be avoided at all costs, though concussion is often also called a mild traumatic brain injury. The symptoms can be anything but mild,” Forte said.
“So, you, right now Sean, you cannot fight MMA in Georgia,” Klein asked Sean.
“No, because there’s nothing here,” Sean said. “It’s hard. I got to like go to different states, sometimes different countries to find a fight.”
Right now, youth MMA fights are not allowed in Georgia.
“Our primary concern is, do we have the right rules set in place to regulate any sort of combat sporting event,” said Seth Millican, chair of Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission.
Sean can train at Independent MMA in McDonough, but he travels to Tennessee, Florida or Texas to compete.
A group pushed to change that, but the effort died when the pandemic shut down live sporting events.
“That question has recently come back to the commission and so we’re actually working with the Attorney General’s Office right now to see what our statute, what our rules that allows us to regulate,” Millican said.
If given the green light, the commission would come up with rules to protect youth fighters.
“When you’re doing combat sports, there’s always a risk for a concussion,” Millican said.
California allows youth MMA fights.
Alvarez said the experience she got from competing in the cage is invaluable.
“I definitely think that most of my fighting and all of my game, my style has developed through competing,” Alvarez said.
Supporters of youth MMA said the benefits outweigh the risks. The sport teaches discipline and builds confidence.
“If I’m confident enough to get in there and compete in a cage or ring, I’m confident enough to go ace this test,” Goldsby said.
“I’m able to work hard. The feeling afterwards, it hurts. But I know, hey, I did something today. I improved myself as a person,” Sean said.
The positives are why he hopes youth MMA competitions will be allowed in Georgia.
“I would say at least give it a chance,” Sean said.
There is no timeline for Georgia to make a decision on allowing youth MMA fights.
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