Thursday, September 18, 2014

The View From Upstate, Part 2 - Forrest Hobbick Has Seen Some Shit


Forrest Hobbick, that man deserves a huge amount of praise for what we were able to accomplish. We really had a great infrastructure. Not only were we having independent regulation, but he made sure the majority of officials were never from that region so there were no hometown decisions. We really were able to put together the troops! There were inspectors in the locker rooms, full compliance, everybody wearing independent gear to show they were independent regulators… honestly, I’m very proud of what we do all over the world, but I’m extraordinarily proud of what we accomplished in short period of time in a state that was rogue. I would put our regulations of events right there with the most experienced commissions.” – Cory Schafer, President of the International Sport Karate Association
2012 was a pivotal year for MMA in New York, as it was the year the Attorney General finally acknowledged that the law banning pro iterations of the sport didn’t apply to amateur versions. What followed was an explosion of events – some well-run with all the safety precautions taken, some not so much. For Upstate New York, the common denominator for the former was invariably third-party sanctioning handled by the ISKA. And at such events, that meant Forrest Hobbick was present behind the scenes, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

Hobbick, 40, was the ISKA’s rep in New York, the point man in charge of making sure everyone wearing a black ISKA shirt was properly trained and competent. He was also the man who had to tell promoters “no” – “No, you can’t let a fighter who was KO’d last week compete tonight,” “No, you can’t have an event without a doctor present,” “No, this fighter who hasn’t been tested for HIV or Hepatitis absolutely cannot get into the cage, and how can you even ask that?”

That was Hobbick’s job until a few months ago, but like a corrections officer who must deal with the worst of humanity day in and day out, it got to be too much. Hobbick, you see, has seen some shit. So he got out.

“No ambulance,” he says of the shady things he’s witnessed firsthand. “No blood work. Guys who don’t make weight. Promoters trying to pull fighters out of the crowd – the show is supposed to start at 7pm, it’s 6:45pm and a guy no-showed, so the promoter goes into the audience and says to someone, ‘Do you want to fight?’ No doctors. The promoter asking ‘Can we bring in a physical therapist?’ Trying to downplay one guy’s record so he can fight a lesser opponent. That one probably happened the most often – promoters just trying tooth and nail to get guys matches and setting up mismatched fights. I’m sure it happens everywhere, but those were some of the things in New York.”
Of course, promoters weren’t the only people who fell short on the spectrum of safety. “There was a fighter in a rear naked choke who was visibly unconscious for nine seconds before the ref pulled them apart,” he says of one official.

Then there was the doctor reviewing blood test paperwork who didn’t know any better when it came to possible scams. “I did see one thing where a fighter didn’t have his blood work – he had a letter on letterhead from his own doctor saying that he had his test results and that everything was negative. It wasn’t signed in ink, it wasn’t blood work. I said, ‘You can’t do that. Who’s to say that the fighter’s girlfriend isn’t a secretary in the doctor’s office and she typed it up for him? You have to physically see the test results.’ I’ve seen things like that.”

“It’s not everyone in the State of New York who’s doing this,” he says. “It’s a small portion of the community. It’s shady gyms with shady fighters, supporting shady promotions, and it makes everyone look bad.”

The Bad Apples

The law governing amateur MMA in the state doesn’t really do anything in terms of governing. In fact, it even goes in the other direction, depowering the New York State Athletic Commission and ensuring that, as long as the fighters are unpaid, there are no rules and regulations that anyone has to follow. Because of how the statute is written, the only law a promoter who doesn’t insist on screening fighters for HIV is violating is a moral one, the only rule broken when allowing a fighter to compete again soon after a knockout is one involving common sense and a conscience.

But when the amateur scene exploded, many promoters sought out rules and regulation and oversight, embracing organizations like the ISKA and the World Kickboxing Association and the sanctioning they brought with them.

Not all, though.

There was John Carlo, who’s been putting on shows just north of New York City since the late ‘90s.

“What John Carlo told me he ran shows like, I just… I basically lost respect,” says Hobbick of their initial communications. “I’ve never been to one of his shows, but I know what he told me firsthand.”
According to Hobbick, Carlo was a rep for the United States Muay Thai Association (USMTA) looking to jump ship. “When he approached the ISKA, it was to save money. It was not because he wanted safety or regulation. He asked, ‘The ISKA comes in and what do you do?’ I told him all the results would be submitted to the ABC to help keep the records straight... He said, ‘You know what? I don’t really care about that. The guys fighting in my league, they just want to fight. They don’t want recognition. So we can save some money there, you don’t have to post the results for our show.”

“Then he says they’ve been running their own shows for 13 years, so they don’t need me to supervise. He can do my job for me, and he can save money by not having me come. I was just like, wow.”

Adds Hobbick, “He was saying that he doesn’t need an ambulance at his show because his referees are top-notch, they know when to stop a fight.”

To hear Hobbick tell it, Carlo isn’t the worst of them. That honor would go to Ed Kinner, one of the promoters behind the Amsterdam, NY, show Evolution of Combat (EOC) – a show that self-regulates.

The ISKA has never overseen an EOC show. But even in a state as big as New York, the circle of camps, coaches and fighters is a close and tight-knit one, so when Hobbick learned that a pro fighter might be fighting at an EOC installment, he was moved to act.

“I actually called Ed Kinner and said, ‘What you guys do is none of my business, but I understand you’ve got a guy with pro status fighting for you. It’s none of my business, I don’t care, I can’t police the whole state of New York. But this name got brought across my desk, and if anybody raises a stink, I will out him and I will defend myself and say that the ISKA did not allow him in the cage at an event that we sanctioned.’ Then all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got a letter from the New York State Athletic Commission, we’ve got this and we’ve got that.’ ‘Well, Jesus, I represent the ISKA and I’ve approached the New York State Athletic Commission on four or five different occasions – on safety, different things on fighter safety when it comes to suspensions – and they flat-out ignore me. But you’ve got a guy who’s got pro status and you’ve actually got a letter from the New York State Athletic Commission saying that it’s okay that he participates at your show? What makes you so special? Here’s my email address, send me the letter.’ ‘Oh, I can’t do that, it’s got confidential information. We’ve got it but we can’t show it to you.’”

Last month, the Albany-based promotion Cage Wars posted on Facebook saying a matchup was off because a fighter couldn’t produce any blood-screening paperwork; that fighter had fought for EOC two weeks prior.

As per Hobbick, Cage Wars said to the fighter, ‘Can’t you go back to Evolution of Combat and get your blood work from there?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t do blood work for them, they never asked.’”

“It’s a joke,” says Hobbick. “I know what’s going on. Everyone knows what’s going on. They sit all the judges at one table, and the judges aren’t even judges – they’re professional fighters from the local gym, and they’re allowed to judge their teammates’ fights.”

“The fighters are hanging out in the crowd with their friends with their gloves on – where’s the official that’s supposed to stay with this guy? So many different safety aspects… That fighter could be in the crowd hanging out with his bros, and they’re probably giving pills – ‘Here, take this, dude.’ The kid could drop dead in the ring because nobody is there actively inspecting or being an official to make sure this stuff isn’t going on.”

“Evolution of Combat puts one fight card out there, people knew guys were suspended on it and they contacted their doctor. So the next card comes up and the promoters don’t advertise any fights. Nobody knows what’s going on until fight time. It’s funny.”

“They have no business being in the sport, they are the absolute worst. Hands down.”

Hobbick also has a low opinion of the shows run by Arnold Ross at the Whitehall Athletic Club in Whitehall, a town near New York’s border with Vermont.
Ross was originally going to use the WKA for sanctioning for an event, but then turned to the ISKA.
“I researched the card, and for one of his title bouts he had a fight on paper that looked awful. It was something like a [fighter with a record of] 3-8 versus [a fighter with a record of] 8-3. I asked for more information on the fighters, he gave me the information, it wasn’t good enough for me so I told him that I wasn’t going to allow that bout. So of course the promoter says, ‘Why not? The WKA was going to allow it.’ ‘You’re not speaking to the WKA.’ He’s a promoter, he’ll tell me the WKA said anything. He’s like, ‘Alright, that sucks.’”

“He tells me he needs a doctor. He says, ‘I can’t find one. It’s a holiday weekend, I can’t find one, can you refer me one?’ I believe I gave him the numbers of three different doctors that I knew in Upstate. None of them were available. So Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he’s trying to get me to let him use a physician’s assistant, he’s trying to get me to use a chiropractor. Everybody under the sun. I think we even made a joke that next he was going to ask for a veterinarian.”

“But he couldn’t give me the name of a doctor, so I said, ‘Look, if you don’t have a doctor’s name for me on Wednesday at 5:30pm, the ISKA is not going to travel [to your show]. Thursday is Thanksgiving, it’s a holiday. Friday is a travel day for the Friday night weigh-ins, and I’m not traveling anywhere unless I know that there’s going to be a doctor present when I arrive.’ Well, they couldn’t come up with a name, so they say, ‘I guess you guys aren’t coming?’ I said no. We pulled sanctioning for the event.”

“They went on and ran the event, and self-regulated it. He allowed the mismatched match-up that I wouldn’t allow, he allowed it to go. Then I call him and inform him that I had pulled a fighter off a card in Utica the same night because he got KO’d a couple weeks before, I said, ‘You’re putting this kid in a fight. I wouldn’t allow him to fight in Utica, and now he’s coming to you.’ He allowed that fighter to fight. And I told him he was on suspension, he got knocked out two weeks before, and I had already removed him from one card. So instead of this fighter fighting in Utica, he went to Whitehall and fought there.”

“These are all facts,” says Hobbick. “This all happened at one event.”

“It’s time somebody spoke up and told the truth about what’s going on.”

“I’ve watched a kid get his ass kicked for three three-minute rounds and go on to win a unanimous decision because he was the son of the promoter,” says Hobbick. “And the kid was also 15-years old at the time, so he was a minor.”

But for all the transgressions perpetrated by promoters who simply did not care about anything beyond making a buck, the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted Hobbick to relinquish his role as ISKA rep was when a New York City-based promoter shorted him and his people their fee.
“I understand that I can’t do my job unless promoters are doing shows, and the only way they do shows is if they make money,” says Hobbick. “But don’t make money off the officials and the fighters.”
Hobbick still has his day job at Remington Arms to pay the bills, and his exit from the ISKA doesn’t mean he’s gone completely from the sport – he’ll now help the Syracuse-based promotion Gladius Fights with their self-regulation efforts.

“Cage Wars is doing their own thing, and they’re doing a good job,” he says. “This is their second event on their own, and both events they’ve lost fighters due to blood work, so they’re obviously doing the right thing. I know Gladius is doing the right thing because I’m in charge of it. I’m going to be working with Spirit FC… I am still working.”

Meanwhile, throughout the rest of New York – both upstate and downstate – amateur MMA events fill up the calendar. Some of them are sanctioned by the WKA, some by the USMTA, some by the promoters themselves. The end results vary.

“Everybody is so worried about pro [MMA] and everybody wants to talk about pro [MMA], but nobody wants to talk about what’s actually here and going on. There’s a lot of problems at amateur, there’s a lot of people that don’t belong in the sport. And New York State doesn’t do anything about it and refuses to do anything about it, and that’s a huge, huge problem.”

Adds Hobbick: “It’s time somebody spoke up and told the truth about what’s going on, you know?”

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