By FIGHT! contributor Jeff Harder
Proposing legislation was just the beginning. Now Matt Peterson had to convince Maine’s House of Representatives that mixed martial arts was worth regulating.
“More often than not the most common (sentiment) was, ‘That’s brutal’ or ‘That looks violent,’” says Peterson, 31, a first-term Democratic member of Maine’s House of Representatives representing District 92. “That’s how 90 percent of the conversations started.” So Peterson sat down and talked with his fellow legislators about MMA, the training regimens, the rule sets, and so forth. “I’d get longwinded and go on a little bit,” he says. He brought in Mike Brown, Marcus Davis, and others to testify before the legislature. If he really wanted to win someone over, he delivered them a copy of A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan—“the definitive text on MMA,” Peterson says.
Five months after first proposing the bill, Peterson’s legislation was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci. If all goes smoothly, the state could host its first sanctioned mixed martial arts event as early as next spring.
Peterson has been an ardent MMA fan since before UFC events moved beyond single digits. Besides his work in Maine’s legislature, he hosts a podcast covering New England’s MMA scene, he’s been a matchmaker for a local fight promotion, and he manages his brother’s fighting career. He has a deep love for the sport—not just a lust for the cash an event might draw—though he has never trained before. “I had a spinal injury when I was 18 and I use a wheelchair. I was never going to be a fighter, I was never going to be a trainer,” he says. “But we can all contribute at some level.”
In high school, Peterson and a friend scraped together some money to order UFC 8, where a gi-clad Gary Goodridge elbowed Paul Herrera into oblivion. “I saw that and my jaw hit the floor,” he says. Peterson was hooked. He published a 5,000-circulation music zine called Micstand Magazine during the early 2000s, and he branched out into interviewing fighters covering UFC cards. His brother, Jesse—who wrestled at University of Southern Maine while WEC Featherweight champion Mike Brown was coach—started fighting in 2006, which Peterson says only increased his fanaticism.
He had no background in politics, but Peterson became a regular at the legislature while working as an Independent Living Specialist for Alpha One, a center that offers services to individuals with disabilities to gain personal independence. He lobbied for improvements to Maine’s long-term care system and became friendly with the previous District 92 representative, who by 2008 had served the maximum of four 2-year terms. Last fall, he offered to endorse Peterson and help him with his campaign. Peterson won the election with 2,388 votes to his opponent’s 1,208.
Weeks after the election, Peterson contacted members of the Zuffa staff to get their help in putting together a bill that would regulate MMA in Maine. Tapping into their expertise would help simplify the process and make the state more attractive for a future UFC or WEC card, he says, and the potential economic benefits of regulation are too much for states to ignore.
The house passed the bill 119-17, and the senate passed the bill unanimously. “We had a really tough economic climate here in Maine, but MMA was embraced by both sides of the aisle,” Peterson says. Next, the state needs to form the Mixed Martial Arts Authority of Maine, and Peterson intends to be as involved as he can in putting the regulatory agency as he was in getting the bill passed.
That doesn’t mean his other MMA endeavors will disappear, though. Peterson and NortheastMMA.net’s Rick Caldwell produce the New England Fights podcast, a round-up of interviews, event previews, and fight recaps. He’s also been a matchmaker for Massachusetts-based fight promotion No Boundary, and he manages a modest roster of fighters including his brother. Lately, he’s been shuttling his girlfriend’s sons—both adolescent wrestlers—to jiu-jitsu practice and taking them to compete in tournaments.
One of the best things about MMA, Peterson says, is that work ethic counts for so much. “Some of us are born and no matter how hard we work, we’re never going to be NFL players or NBA stars, but this is a sport where hard work really pays off.” Peterson’s path from political novice to MMA regulation champion has followed a similar trajectory. “We live in an unbelievably awesome country. If you have a dream, you can run for office, knock on doors, get elected, and you can pass a law,” he says. “I got to contribute to passing a law that legalized and regulated the sport I love.”
Visit Newenglandfights.com to listen to the New England Fights podcast.