Wichita A traveling fight event that makes a stop in Wichita this weekend has come under criticism because three participants have died of injuries since September.
The Toughman competition is a form of boxing where contestants, often lacking any training, compete for small cash prizes.
Toughman opponents say the three deaths are proof that the fights are too dangerous, but organizers maintain the matches are as safe as any style of boxing.
"It has been a rough few months," said Joelle English, spokeswoman for Michigan-based AdoreAble Promotions Inc. "No one feels worse than we do. But we still believe we offer the safest form of boxing available."
Lately, some cities have disagreed.
In January, officials in Evansville, Ind., canceled scheduled fights because of safety concerns. Some cities and at least four states ban the fights, which have been linked to nine deaths since the Original Toughman Contest was created in 1979.
Gregory Lamb has tried to get Wichita to ban Toughman events since he was seriously injured in a 1998 fight here.
"If people are dying, it needs to stop," he said. "It's crazy."
Richard Leslie, owner of the Cotillion in Wichita, where the event will be staged this weekend, said the Toughman competition meets city safety and insurance requirements and is a well-run event.
"We've had them before, and they're pretty popular," Leslie said. "I'm concerned anytime I hear about someone dying, but I'm confident in the referees, judges and doctors."
The Wichita Area Sports Commission is not involved in the fights.
"It seems a little high-risk," commission president Bob Hanson said.
The competitors fight three one-minute rounds with 45-second breaks in between.
The most recent death came in January, when Scott Wood, 31, of San Antonio, died at a hospital in Saginaw, Mich. Two fighters died in September.
English said the deaths were tragic but no different from those attributed to amateur or professional boxing.
"We do 130 to 140 shows a year with maybe 40 men fighting in each," she said. "Almost all of them end safely. But boxing is a dangerous sport, and every fighter understands that."
The fighters wear 16-ounce gloves and use headgear and other protective devices, and paramedics are on hand. Each fighter signs a waiver at the weigh-in acknowledging the risks, English said.