(Keith Mills/Sherdog)Real Sports on HBO: A Story of Vetting Fighters Scott Zerr July 27, 2015 News, Spotlight When HBO aired Real Sports with a feature on domestic violence issues in MMA, I wanted to wait a day or two to watch it, let the smoke clear of opinions, and then watch it for myself uninfluenced but what others were saying. Most of us in the MMA racket watched in horror as the details of the Jon Koppenhaver (who legally changed his name to War Machine, which should be a dead giveaway of how unstable he is) incident unfolded. It was disgusting. If he gets anything less than 10 years in prison for that assault, it’s a travesty. I’ll give Bellator and boss Scott Coker credit for immediately firing Koppenhaver. However, his predecessor Bjorn Rebney should have been vilified in the mainstream and MMA media for orchestrating the entire promo that Koppenhaver was coming out of jail and to the show. That was disgusting as well yet it went without any hint of protest from the media which was shameful. I can perhaps give some insight on the MMA business after spending more than 14 years in the game. After watching HBO’s story, particularly the segment about vetting, or the lack of vetting, by MMA organizations, I thought I could offer something specific. As part of the Maximum Fighting Championship staff, I will say that we did vet fighters. In part, we had to. With the show based in Canada, there were fighters who could not the cross the border. Some had serious offenses on their record like assault – typically it was a bar fight, but when it was against a peace officer, it was a 100% no-go. What many don’t know is that entering Canada becomes an extreme challenge with domestic violence, drunk driving and/or failure to pay child support on your record. FYI – drunk driving is labeled with the Canadian equivalent of a felony. Most often it was a drunk driving rap that red-flagged a fighter from coming up from the U.S. to Canada for a fight. Rarely did domestic violence come up so the stats on MMA and domestic violence that HBO presented, if correct, were startling or at least it wasn’t something I can recall dealing with. We had to vet fighters because of the border laws. But we also wanted to vet fighters. I can recall several times when we simply did not hire a fighter because of the stigma he carried. Right or wrong, if a red flag popped, the fighter was dropped from discussion. We did give fighters a second or even a third chance from time to time. One who comes to mind is Drew Fickett. After a highly publicized feud with Fickett and his management at the time, a fence was mended and Fickett, who had turned his life around from various arrests and substance issues, was hired. Fickett made an emotional plea for a chance, the opportunity to prove himself, and MFC owner Mark Pavelich, a self-proclaimed “sucker for a comeback story,” brought Fickett onboard. He was a model citizen during his MFC stint. Another highly publicized incident was very memorable for all the wrong reasons. In the spring of 2011, the MFC debuted at Caesars Windsor in Ontario, and on that show, former UFC talent Hermes Franca was on the card. Franca was easy to deal with and promptly notched a knockout win that put him in line for a title shot against Fickett which would further his career resurgence. A month later, Hermes was arrested in Oregon on multiple counts of sexual abuse of a female minor who was his jiu-jitsu student. Less than an hour after we were informed of his arrest, Franca was immediately released by the MFC. We weren’t going to wait. Due process didn’t apply. The charges were enough. He was gone and would never be given a second chance no matter how his legal matters turned out. All of this leads me to say that yes, the MFC, did vet its potential fighters. I’m sure that other organizations do as well, yet I know for a fact, that other shows not only don’t vet but seem to enjoy promoting ‘bad boys.’ Hopefully, MMA is not tagged as a home of domestic violence. Boxing and football were mentioned in the HBO piece but it was very brief. I hope that HBO, which houses Hard Knocks and other NFL-related programming, does a more comprehensive look at domestic violence in football where I believe it is an epidemic along with other serious crimes. It might be worth the time to investigate the NBA as well. Second chances are great. Every single one of us has needed them – maybe third and fourth ones, too. MMA needs a second chance on the issue of domestic violence. The case for that chance should only come with more vetting and sticking with a moral code.