Senator Mark Johnston of South Dakota was always for fighting the good fight when it came to getting mixed martial arts regulated in his home state.
Even when Representative Steve Hickey came out with an outrageous statement calling MMA "the child porn of sports," Johnston and many like him that represent the people of South Dakota knew that a vigilant, intelligent battle was much better than one marred by political mudslinging.
It paid off because on Wednesday, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill to create an athletic commission to oversee sports like MMA in the state by a vote of 50-20, according to a report from the Argus Leader.
The South Dakota State Senate already passed the bill as well, although they still have to re-approve a few changes that were made in the House. Senator Johnston believes, however, that is just a formality before the final bill is sent to the Governor's office for approval.
"It's not over yet. Because it was amended in the House of Representatives we still have to concur in the Senate over the House changes. I support those changes, but the real challenge is when that bill comes before Governor Daugaard and what he does with it. Either sign it, veto it or not sign it which in effect will allow that to go into law," Senator Johnston told Bleacher Report on Wednesday. "Most importantly, I'm excited for the athletes in South Dakota.
"I believe that this will go a long way to change the perception that MMA has in South Dakota. All throughout this process it has absolutely angered me the number of people who use the negative connotation of cage fighting with MMA. We all know that a regulated sport like MMA will do away with 99-percent of the problems that we've had in South Dakota."
Governor Dennis Daugaard has been a staunch opponent to the bill from the beginning, but even if he decides to veto the law, the legislature has the numbers on their side to override his decision if it goes that far.
Johnston is actually extending an olive branch to the governor on this issue. He has offered to meet with him, along with the possibility of bringing in a fighter such as UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader or one of his teammates who have supported the fight for regulated MMA in the state of South Dakota, to show the kind of athletes who compete in MMA.
Whether the governor will accept that offer remains to be seen, but Johnston is excited about what this new law could mean not only for the safety of the athletes who compete in MMA in South Dakota, but also because it could lead to major revenue for the state when promoters are legally allowed to put on shows there.
"There were two things that drove me everyday with this piece of legislation – athlete safety and opportunity," Johnston explained. "I think we've addressed athlete safety several times throughout these discussions but also from an opportunity perspective we have former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar who is a native of South Dakota, we've got a guy like David Martin, one of the most prominent managers of mixed martial artists in this country, all proponents of MMA. Importantly from a venue perspective having the Sturgis motorcycle rally the first 10 days of August in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota every year, that attracts some half a million people over that 10-day period."
The Sturgis motorcycle rally is one of the largest of its kind and has reportedly brought in over $800 million dollars to South Dakota annually. The rally also routinely attracts nearly half a million visitors during the week-long event typically held around the first week of August.
Harley Davidson is a major contributor to the annual motorcycle rally, and of course it can't be forgotten that the company is also a top sponsor for the UFC.
Johnston says it would be crazy not to think a major MMA event during Sturgis week could be good for the state and good for the promotion as well.
"Picture the possibility of holding at some point in history, holding the largest attended MMA event in the history of the sport in conjuncture with the Sturgis motorcycle rally," said Johnston. "Talk about the prominence that will bring to South Dakota. All because we have a sanctioning, governing body that will be a promoter of that type of event. I'm thrilled by that possibility."
Johnston will now anxiously await, along with the other lawmakers in South Dakota, for Governor Daugaard to hopefully sign the bill into law. Then they can begin work on building an athletic commission to oversee sports like mixed martial arts in the state.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted