[From L-R back row: Conrad St. John, Jeff Taylor, Will LaPointe, Adam Burkhalter, Matt Reynolds. From L--R front row: Eddie Murphy, Dave Butler, Joe Taylor, Rachael Holmes, Larry "Cowboy" Livingston and Katie Belisle.]

On Saturday, October 22, the St. Croix tribe hosted their second in a series of three Mixed Martial Arts events in a process to get sanctioned by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). The event, featuring 10 fights, was held at the St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake.

The St. Croix Boxing Commission is a tribal organization passed by tribal council resolution in March of 2016 which provides an ordinance for the protection of the tribe when their casinos host boxing or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events. 

“The goal of the tribal ordinance was to set up policies and procedures for organizing these events for the safety of the fighters,” said William LaPointe of the newly-formed boxing commission.

LaPointe explained how there are no Wisconsin tribes sanctioned by the ABC. 

“We will be the first,” LaPointe said. “In order to get sanctioned, we must host three events that are supervised by the ABC and then their representative will propose our certification to the entire commission at the annual meeting in July in Las Vegas.”

LaPointe said they will be holding their third event in January or February. 

The ABC regional director, Adam Burkhalter, said he saw a lot of improvement in St. Croix’s second event from the first. 

Burkhalter explained the difference between sanctioned fights and unsanctioned fights. He said all tribal fights in the past were unsanctioned, which meant any person right out of the crowd could get into the ring and fight, sometimes untrained, going against well-trained professionals. 

“If the promotion needed a fighter, they’d just call on someone from the crowd and basically, you have a free-for-all and someone can get seriously hurt that way,” Burkhalter said. 

LaPointe said this is exactly why the St. Croix Boxing Commission was formed, “So that we could get away from that. We want to have better quality fights that are safe for our fighters.”

The Wisconsin Boxing Commission wasn’t formed until 2011 in response to a fight in Milwaukee where an untrained referee failed to see a fighter who was being choked trying to tap out. The choke resulted in too much oxygen deprivation to the brain and he later died at a hospital.

Joe Fipp was the Saturday night referee and is certified by the state of Wisconsin. Fipp has been refereeing fights since 2008.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to have ref’d these professionals when they were just starting out as amateurs,” Fipp said. “I’ve watched these coaches when they were fighters.”

“All of our fights have trained referee’s, judges and medical personnel,” LaPointe said.

Burkhalter said all fighters undergo complete physicals prior to the fights and again at their weigh-ins. In unregulated fights, there is no requirement for blood work to make sure they don’t have transmissible diseases like Hepatitis C.

At sanctioned fights, there are inspectors who stay with fighters at-all-times once they are taped up for their bout that evening, to make sure their gloves aren’t tampered with.

“Sanctioned and regulated fights are much safer for the fighter,” Burkhalter said.

The Wisconsin Boxing Commission requires blood work for HIV, Hep B and C. The fighters must have EKG’s, radiological and neurological exams, eye exams, and a urinalysis. Fighters older than 35 must have a CT scan or MRI of the brain.

“Fighters 39 and over will need to submit a metabolic blood profile, along with an MRI or MRA of the brain with contrast and a stress echo with a cardiology clearance (the fighter needs a letter from the cardiologist along with the test, and a chest x-ray,” according to the ABC website.

The tribe’s medical professional onsite for the fights was Katie Belisle, a St. Croix Tribal Clinic nurse. Although requirements state a doctor should be there, LaPointe said Belisle went through all the proper certifications and licensing to be the ringside medical personnel. He said she is also insured.

Belisle said she does a complete physical at the weigh-in for each fighter. She checks their eyes, their extremities to make sure everything is okay and she checks over their organs to make sure there are no noticeable enlargements.

Every fighter is also required to do a post-fight check up with Belisle as they leave the ring. Each fighter is required to follow up with any recommendation made by Belisle at that time. If she says they need to go to the hospital, the fight promoter, Rob Mrotek makes sure they go.

“Katie did a really good job. She was thorough,” LaPointe said. There was an ambulance on standby for the entire event, and another one on back up, LaPointe said. He explained that under regulations, a fight can’t take place unless there is an ambulance on the property, so if the ambulance had to leave to take someone to the hospital, they couldn’t have another fight until it came back. 

LaPointe also said major organizations like the UFC and Bellator don’t recognize fighter’s records from unsanctioned fights, which discourages professionals from taking part in the events.

The whole venue was impressive. The entire set up from start to finish was a monumental task from sound checks, to lighting, to ring set-up, judge’s chairs and welcoming fighters, it seemed the St. Croix Boxing Commission team never slowed down.

A pre-fight meeting was held backstage between the promoter, referee and the fighters to go over what was expected of them. 

The referee went over the dozens of rules under Wisconsin amateur regulations. Some of those rules included no elbows or knees to head, no eye-gouging, headbutting, straight-down elbows, punches to the back of the head, and no grabbing the cage or your opponent’s clothes, just to name a few.

It was evident that the boxing commissions take the integrity of the sport and the safety of its fighters very seriously.

“The casino and the St. Croix Boxing Commission have done a lot to put on a great show here for us,” promoter Rob Mrotek told the fighters. “Be respectful of the casino. Take care of the property.”

Mrotek also told the fighters they were here because they went through all the hard work to get this far. “You guys took the time to get licensed by the state, so that means you wanted to be here, so let’s put on a good show,” Mrotek said.

Joe Fipp told the fighters, “And no taunting. Respect your opponent. Respect the sport.”

Jeff Taylor of the St. Croix Boxing Commission said he has been very impressed with the state and how helpful they’ve been. In March, after the tribal council passed the resolution, Taylor went to Madison expecting resistance to the tribe’s pursuit of becoming sanctioned.

“Adam was super helpful right from the start,” Taylor said. “He was excited for us as we were the first tribe in Wisconsin to take the time to get sanctioned.”

Taylor said fights that are unregulated can become wild west shows and we are working to get away from that. “These tribes are putting their casinos in line for being liable and until 2011, Wisconsin wasn’t even regulated and the UFC wouldn’t hold any events here. Adam invited us down to Lake Geneva for a sanctioned UFC event a few months ago so we could see how it was all done. It was the first UFC event in Wisconsin in years. Now that Wisconsin is sanctioned, the UFC is coming back.”

Taylor said St. Croix wants to be the first tribe in the state to put on these governed events.

Bruce Taylor is the director of events at the St. Croix Casino property in Danbury and Dusty Hill is in Turtle Lake. Taylor said he plans to have a boxing event sometime in early 2017 as well.

LaPointe said it was Bruce Taylor who really pushed for St. Croix to be sanctioned because he had hosted events in the past and he personally ran the entire events. “He knew how necessary it was for the tribe to host regulated and sanctioned events for the safety of the fighters and the liability of the tribe.”

LaPointe said the team overseeing Saturday night’s event was made up of some of the best in Wisconsin, from the inspectors, to judges to the referee.

The judges were Larry Struck, Todd Nielson and Kristen Nielson. The St. Croix tribal inspectors were Larry “Cowboy” Livingston and Rachael Holmes. The state inspector was Eddie Murphy. The commission representatives overseeing the fights were Burkhalter and Matt Reynolds.

The ring announcer was Roger Mulderink.

The St. Croix Boxing Commission is made up of LaPointe, Jeff Taylor, Dave Butler, Conrad St. John, Duane Emery and Joe Taylor. 

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