The promoter of a mixed martial arts card March 7 in Tulare, Calif., confirmed Friday that one of the competitors was allowed to fight despite testing positive for Hepatitis C and having no test results on file for HIV.
Al Joslin, who has promoted nine cards in California, said he learned of the situation about a week ago, when he was leaked a copy of a memo from the California State Athletic Commission. The commission is responsible for medical clearance of all MMA and boxing shows in the state.
The Times also received an electronic copy of the memo, and confirmed its authenticity with a source who has knowledge of the situation but was not authorized to speak publicly.
"I am aware of it, and I'm very troubled by it," Joslin said. "I'm very concerned the commission never contacted us. When we found out, we hit the ceiling.
"So much is at stake here, for the fighters, for the people who clean up the blood in the ring afterward. For my wife [his partner in Pure Combat Promotions], who goes into the ring and occasionally hugs a fighter after a match.
"You care about these kids. You get fond of them."
The memo was dated July 22, nearly 20 weeks after the event. It was signed by Dave Thornton, interim executive officer of the CSAC. It said the situation had "come to the attention" of the commission and encouraged those who "may have been unwittingly exposed to a transmittable blood-borne disease" to be tested.
The memo did not identify the fighter, saying, "we are unable to provide you with further details because of various provisions of late related to medical privacy."
Joslin said the memo was not sent to him, nor any of the fighters. He said he knows which fighter tested positive but would not identify him out of respect for his privacy.
"This memo was written to protect the commission . . ." he said, "rather than doing something about the fighter."
On Friday, The Times was able to reach only one of the 18 fighters from the March card. Preston Scharf, who lost a bout to John Ready that night in Tulare, said he was not notified by the CSAC about any medical concern. "I was tested three weeks ago. My stuff was OK," he told The Times in a telephone interview. "Do you know if it was John?"
Scharf said he was concerned but not shocked that a fighter who was possibly infected was allowed to compete.
"It's scary," he said. "There's blood, you know. You take someone down and there's blood and you fall into that blood and you're in it for who knows how long. The sport is high-risk all the way around. That's why we pay the state. We're supposed to be protected."
Shelly Matlock, Joslin's wife, said, "There was no blood drawn" in the match involving the fighter suspected of testing positive. She added that a blood sample was taken Wednesday from that fighter and that test results would be known in 10 days.
In the CSAC's memo, Thornton writes, "You should also think about what might happen if, before you receive your test results, you engage in activities in which you might transmit one of those diseases to someone else."
Said Scharf: "That's terrible, that someone could fight and give that to you and then you give that to your kids or your wife and not know it."
Despite repeated tries, there has been no comment from the CSAC. Since Wednesday, The Times, in calls to the commission's Sacramento office, was told that Thornton was not in. Voice messages left for him were not returned and the voice message system for the commission's administrative assistant, Sarah Waklee, said her mailbox was full.
Joslin said it was the commission's job to "protect the fighters, promoters and the public," and added that "99.99% of the inspectors are professional."
He also said that the procedure is that the CSAC seeks and receives, well before a fight card, all required medical records. It can seek additional information and is not supposed to let a fighter compete until all medical questions are answered.
Joslin says he hates the "blood sport" image of MMA, and acknowledged that something like this doesn't help.
"Neither you nor I should have gotten a copy of that memo," he said. "But maybe it's a good thing we did."
Times staff writer Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
[see photo, "A copy of a memo from the California State Athletic Commission warning of potential disease exposure."]
MARCH 7, 2009, AT AGRICULTURE CENTER, TULARE, CA.
Nick Covert def. Bill Terry; Chad Sutton def. Eli Morena; Darren Crisp def. Marc De La Cruz; Zack Trammel def. Josh Herrick; Joe Morales def. Carlos DeSoto; Jimmy Dexter def. Tony Juarez; John Ready def. Preston Scharf; Mike Cook def. Carter Williams; Jason Von Flue def. Steve Ramerez.