Profile of Michigan MMA head Dr. James Weber

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                                Profile of Michigan MMA head Dr. James Weber

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Doc strikes blow for fighters

It may seem unlikely a physician would become head of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission — the body that oversees the most physically brutal sports on Earth.

But Dr. James Weber, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan Medical Center, would beg to differ.

Weber, also a ringside physician for USA Boxing's amateur boxers, was recently appointed chairman of the commission, which regulates professional boxing and mixed martial arts events.

The world of mixed martial arts combines several forms of contact-fighting sports, including kickboxing, wrestling and boxing.

The sports entail extensive blows to the head.

While Weber will be overseeing the sports through June 5, 2012, the Brighton Township resident will continue his research on pugilistic dementia, or neurological damage evident in longtime fighters.

Weber, 44, said his goal on the commission is to promote the sports while advancing research on what can be done to prevent injuries both lead to.

His new role with the state is narrowly defined, despite his expertise: Commissioners only provide credentials and levy punitive action when necessary.

"The sport is going to happen with or without me, or with or without any type of legislative bylaws to oversee it," Weber said.

He's a strong supporter of both boxing and mixed martial arts, and hopes to see big-name fights at the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

He will oversee Michigan's first professional mixed martial arts event Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Hamburg Township resident and boxing veteran Al Low also has chaired the commission, formerly called the Michigan Boxing Commission.

Weber studied martial arts in his youth, and later boxed in the amateur ranks. He had about five amateur fights, but later gave up the sport.

During the 1990s, he became friends with Joe Byrd, also a boxing and unarmed combat commissioner and father of former heavyweight boxing champion Chris Byrd.

Weber later became Chris Byrd's exclusive ringside physician for Byrd. He befriended several big-name boxers, including the late Arturo Gatti and Kevin McBride.

"I've always enjoyed boxing. I was a gym rat both to stay in shape and to learn the sport of boxing as well as to become a very good ringside physician," Weber said.

"I'd like to see big fights at the Palace again. I'd like to see big fights at the Joe again," he added.

Weber is also involved in efforts to support ex-fighters who suffer long-term health problems after retirement and, in many cases, go broke.

He said the issue has stuck in his craw for some time as a fan.

"Once I got up close and personal and became good friends with a lot of the fighters, it just bothered me that we would see so many of our champions destitute and broke or really not doing well in their post-fight career," he said.

"I just thought that it was wrong, it was an act of disrespect, when you consider these were world-class athletes," Weber added.

Outside the ER, Weber is associate professor of emergency medicine at U-M, and chief research officer at Hurley Medical Center in Flint and a recognized authority on the cardiac effects of cocaine abuse.

Weber will have a different answer for what he does depending on the hour of the day — whether it happens to be in research, clinic work, medical writing or boxing-related work.

He's provided storylines for The Learning Channel's "Trauma: Life in the ER," as well as the daytime television show "The Doctors."

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