[Editor’s Note: This article, written by Combat Press writer Dane McGuire, was originally published on IMMAF.org and is reprinted here with the permission of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation. While the content is the same, this version of the article has been edited to conform to Combat Press formatting standards.]
Tucked away in the small midwestern town of Arnold, Mo., mixed-martial-arts history was made on Aug. 4. For the first time in the state of Missouri, youth pankration bouts were contested.
At Warrior Weekend 10 from the Arnold-Hahn Extreme Fitness & Martial Arts Center, Brock Taylor and Zoey Hahn etched their names into that history. The pair became the inaugural champions in the Rookie and Cadet Girls divisions of the United States Fight League Central Division.
The USFL serves as the youth development arm of the U.S. Mixed Martial Arts Federation (UMMAF). Having a youth branch in place is a requirement for MMA’s potential Olympic inclusion in time for 2028.
Talented nine-year-olds Brock Taylor (2-0 in USFL) and Ryder Sisson (0-1 in USFL) went the full distance in their title bout, under significantly modified pankration rules that exclude head strikes and include age-based technique limitations.
“I feel like the fight went well, like I planned it. Ryder was the toughest competitor that I’ve faced. I feel like he pushed me harder than anyone else has. It felt great to bring home a second USFL championship. I’m grateful that I am able to fight in this area. I cannot wait for the next one,” Taylor said.
Hahn (2-1 in USFL), age 14, had gold wrapped around her waist thanks to a standing guillotine submission of Ashlee Taber (0-1 in USFL) in the first round.
“It is an honor and privilege to be the USFL 135 Central champion, and it felt really amazing because it happened in my hometown gym! I cannot wait to see what’s next for me,” Hahn said.
The USFL formed its Central division in February after great success with its East and West divisions in Florida and California. Unfortunately, the first Missouri event to feature youth pankration may be the last for the foreseeable future thanks to House Bill 1388.
The legislation, banning youth competitors age 17 and under in MMA among other things, has been signed and goes into effect on Aug. 28.
USFL President Jon Frank issued the following statement in response:
“USFL Youth Pankration does not allow head strikes, [eliminating] wins by knockouts, and contains numerous age-based technique limitations and utilizes a point-scoring system based on application of technique and not punishment or damage. For these reasons alone, our rules do not constitute MMA or fall within the definition of a regulated full-contact activity based on Missouri chapter 317.
“Nevertheless, as a closest ‘cousin’ to actual MMA, we realize it’s always better to obtain official sanctioning in states that afford such options to gain credibility and support for our sport within the community of athletic commissions.
“Recently we learned of the HB1388, headlined as the bill to ban kids MMA, but its main provision was to have the Missouri commission assume oversight from its numerous amateur sanctioning bodies. I can only assume most commissions would not want to oversee youth MMA due to the complicated nature of oversight for coaches, officials, participants and the lack of funds generated to support such efforts.
“For these reasons, we believe Missouri chose to ban kids MMA rather than regulate it. It’s the United States Fight League’s opinion that our application for Amateur Sanctioning Body recognition went above and beyond the requirements of the sport since the rules concur with contentious sparring Karate and No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu and not full-contact Mixed Martial Arts or full contact Karate.
“Comments from authors of HB1388, such as ‘stop minors from getting their heads bashed in a cage fight,’ appear to support that the ban is towards actual MMA and not youth Pankration.
“The USFL has been involved with an injury study under the direction of Dr. James Andrews for approximately four years.
“In the 683 bouts, 1366 athletic exposures under this study, we have documented 20 injuries based off post-bout injury reports completed for each and every bout by the attending ringside physician. No concussions were reported, and the vast majority of these injuries were orthopedic and accidents during the application of a grappling technique.
“Compared to the concussion and injury rate of MMA, which has been shown as high as 40 percent compared to the 1.5 percent rate of injuries for Youth Pankration, this should give assurance that Youth Pankration and MMA are unique individual sports. We anticipate the results of the safety study will be shared at the convention of ringside physicians this October in Las Vegas.
“We recently presented our interpretation of Missouri Chapter 317 and provided details about our rules and injury rates to the Missouri commission for recognition that our sport is a non-regulated activity such as non-Full Contact Martial Arts.”