FORMER Labor MP and copper Bob Kucera has been appointed chair of WA’s Combat Sports Commission.
A long-time boxing fan who lists Danny Green, Lionel Rose and ‘50s Welsh flyweight champion Dai Dower as favourites, the North Perth local will now oversee the booming boxing and martial sports industry.
“I’m delighted,” he says.
“I had applied to join the CSC last year as a commissioner.”
Mr Kucera says the heavily-criticised sports have their positive side, which he saw in the city’s police and citizens youth clubs where fighting helped get some kids back on the straight and narrow.
“It teaches kids discipline, that’s what appeals to me.”
Combat sports are flourishing in WA; 558 contestants registered in 2019, up 54 per cent from the year before, while a high-grossing Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament sold out the Perth Arena in 2018.
One reason it’s grown is the McGowan government’s legalisation of “octagon” cages in mixed martial arts. Previously banned over perceptions it was unsafe, the sports community successfully argued it was safer than wrestling in a boxing ring where fighters could slip under the ropes or get tangled.
Mr Kucera says the focus will be on making the sports safer and increasing probity. The Australian Medical Association wants combat sports banned, except for Olympic wrestling.
“There have been times when the industry has been brought into disrepute,” Mr Kucera said, noting it was often followers rather than fighters causing problems, particularly when gambling was in the mix.
A “dual roles policy” introduced last year limits conflicting roles, such as trainers or promoters acting as referees.
The commission is also moving to address the dangerous effects of weight cutting, where fighters sometimes go to extreme lengths to dehydrate themselves at their weigh in to qualify for a lighter class then bulk up in the 24 hours before their bout.
In 1982 South Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim, starved and dehydrated to make weight, died four days after being knocked out by Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, doctors finding 100 cubic centimetres of blood sloshing around in his skull. Closer to home, Perth Muay Thai fighter Jessica Lindsay died during an intense weight cut in December 2017 just half an hour before the scheduled weigh in.
“The challenge for us is to change the culture within the industry … it’s right across the board, the practice [weight cutting], unfortunately, and it’s wasn’t until the unfortunate passing of young Jess that it’s really been highlighted,” Mr Kucera said.
He praised outgoing chair Cassandra Wright for her work modernising the industry and making it safer, including a proposal for a second weigh in two hours before a fight. Any weight gain over 10 per cent could see the commissioners order a fighter to be put up a weight category.
The AMA has suggested one weigh in three days before the bought to give fighters a chance to rehydrate, but there are concerns it would still lead to weight cutting.
The commission is also mandating that fighters and coaches undertake online safety classes. Parents of kids involved in the sport will also have to complete the classes, to ensure they’re not going all Cobra Kai and urging their kids past their safe limits from the sidelines.
“It’s a sport where it’s not hard to get injured, so wherever possible the commission has over the past two and a half years in particular developed a vision that we want to make it as safe as it can be,” Mr Kucera said.
by DAVID BELL