(KHNL) Professional mixed martial arts fights have a reputation for violent combat, but fighters say they've seen their sport go mainstream in recent years.
"There's many times people perceive it as a brute sport," said professional fighter Molly Helsel. "What you find in actuality is a bunch of very trained, very disciplined, elite athletes."
Tuesday a group of fighters entered the political arena of the State Capitol to fight for the future of their sport. They watched as state lawmakers killed a bill banning no rules combat. Instead, lawmakers will look at using a state agency to officially sanction bouts.
"We want to be protected," Helsel said. "We want to make sure that there's blood tests being done, people are verified fighters that are stepping in the ring."
Mixed martial arts promoter Icon Sport brought in $4 million in total revenues last year. Promoters say with the right kind of regulation, they could be making even more.
With state regulation, supporters say Hawaii could attract interest from martial artists and fight promoters from across the country.
"There's a lot of promoters that won't even be involved in state that doesn't have regulations," Helsel said.
Still, competitors don't want regulation to constrain a sport with a tradition of freestyle fighting.