Amputee goes to the mat to redefine limits in athletics
Amputee goes to the mat to redefine limits in athletics
By STEVE HUMMER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/14/07
Because Kyle Maynard works the fringes of the possible, he has been the subject of numerous news reports, a professional inspirational speaker and the author of an autobiography shortly after leaving Collins Hill High School in Suwanee.
He is almost, by trade, one who argues with the accepted view of what a body, however physically incomplete it may be, can do.
Kyle Maynard sought to fight on a mixed martial arts card in Duluth.
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Tuesday came his most audacious challenge yet. He rolled his wheelchair into a small meeting room in Atlanta and asked Georgia's boxing commission to accept an entirely different vision of a competitor.
A fighter without fists. A kick boxer without legs. A full partner in the often brutal world of ultimate fighting born without what could be considered the most essential tools of the business.
Born with a condition known as "congenital amputation" — his arms stop before the elbow, his legs are practically nonexistent — Maynard constantly put himself in the unlikeliest of situations. He played youth football in Gwinnett. He wrestled in high school and briefly at the club level at the University of Georgia. He has competed in the sports of grappling and jujitsu. At each step, the message always has been: Yes, you can.
Then came this Tuesday from the state authority regulating boxing: No, you cannot.
All four members of the five-person Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission in attendance voted to deny Maynard, 21, a license to fight on a Sept. 14 card in Duluth.
Himself in a wheelchair as a former police officer wounded in the line of duty 20 years ago, commission chairman J.J. Biello said, "It's difficult because I know my limitations. I have to realize what they are. It's difficult because here's somebody who has gone beyond anybody's expectations. But I think the safety issue is too great."
Maynard, local promoter David Oblas and attorney Jeff Dickerson argued before the commission that Maynard faced risks no greater than any other fighter's.
Because he was going to fight as an amateur, Maynard would have competed under a different set of rules than those that guide the popular, professional ultimate fighting.
In the pro version, fighters punch and kick and attempt to lock up an opponent in submission holds. Amateurs in Georgia are not allowed to throw punches to the head or kick an opponent who is down on the ground. And because of Maynard's condition, it could be argued that he always was fighting from a "grounded" position.
"I'm not out to prove I can defend myself," Maynard said. "I'm out to prove I can keep someone else from defending himself."
"If they [the commission] understood the sport, they'd see it in a different light. People who understand the sport and understand the rules that I'm competing under get it."
Biello cited one amateur ultimate fighting event he atended in which a fighter punched another while he was down. Fouls happen, he said, especially when the adrenaline is running high.
"He is a fantastic young man, but we all are concerned about safety. This is a dangerous sport," the commission chairman said.
From an opponent's point of view, he would be limited to largely grappling with Maynard, limited by the amateur rules to punches to the body and to attempting to tie him up in some type of submission hold.
"He can defend against any technique that can be used against him and actually has somewhat of an advantage in some cases," his attorney said. "A lot of the techniques the fighters use focus on the arms and legs – arm bars, knee bars. It grossly limits the ability of the other fighters to attack him.
"He's fought against competitors with full arms and full legs his entire life. Whoever he fights probably hasn't fought against somebody like Kyle."
Maynard had hoped to fight on a card at Wild Bill's. He had competed there before in grappling exhibitions, but this was to be a significant step up.
As a wrestler, Maynard, now 125 well-muscled pounds, compiled a 35-16 varsity record at Collins Hill. As a club wrestler at UGA, he said he was 12-10. According to affidavits from two of his current trainers, he has shown the ability to tie up opponents on the mat and compete in mixed martial arts on an amateur level.
In a closed-door meeting with the commission, Maynard argued that he was able to defend himself from blows to the body, while maintaining the ability to deliver short, sharp blows himself.
"I can defend myself and I have a decent shot of winning," he said before the meeting. "I don't think there's any question I can make a decent fight. I can be competitive with anyone in any weight class.
"I understand the concerns. Every fighter, able-bodied or not, has a chance of something happening. I understand there's a risk involved, but I don't think my risk is any greater than anyone else's."
Like many others in his age group, Maynard calls himself a huge fan of ultimate fighting. "It's something I love deep down," he said. For the last year and a half, he has been training for a shot to join the action. He spent Monday night sleeplessly anticipating the next morning's meeting, his goal so close.
Instead, he emerged a philosophical question rather than a fighter: Where does a person's right to set his own level of risk end and the state's obligation to protect him begin?
"Who are we — who is the state — to say he can't challenge himself?" Dickerson wondered.
From here, Maynard can appeal to the commission – "just a formality," Dickerson said. He can challenge the ruling in court. Or he can seek out a fight in another state, one with a different commission or no commission oversight whatsoever.
Bitterly disappointed, Maynard's initial reaction was one of defiance.
"Training for something like this, it was more than wrestling. It was more than anything I've ever done before," he said. "I put myself through a lot. Hours every day. It was one of the toughest things I ever had to do.
"I know I'm going to fight. I don't care where. I'm going to fight, count on it. They could have let me do it here. They could have let me do it safe. I don't care. I'm going to do it."
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