New York State has had some of the top contenders in the MMA world, including Jon Jones and Chris Weidman, why then does Chris Weidman have to Post on Twitter “I have a dream to some day fight at Madison Square Garden”. Legalization of Pro MMA in New York has been an issue for the sport for many years. This is the first of several articles discussing the legalization of New York. In this article we speak with Bjorn Rebney CEO and Chairperson of Bellator MMA the Second largest Promotion in the world, and Michael Mucitelli a Bellator fighter who resides and trains in Upstate New York.
Scifighting: Cuomo reported in a press release ” What is MMA willing to make a commitment to the state in terms of events where they should be….we think an event upstate NY has potential to draw people in….are they going to have an economic impacts that would be persuasive what would you say about the ability of the sport to bring in revenue for NYS
Bjorn Rebney: Mixed Martial Arts at the Bellator level and the UFC level has tremendous economical benefits at the state and local level for the economy . It generates much-needed revenue for state athletic commissions, revenue from airlines, food beverage and hotel, we can bring in large-scale events that have large-scale TV licenses, like Spike TV. The commission fees attached to those are a substantial amount of revenue. The real issue that exist relative to the state of NY, has nothing to do the generation of revenue, The true issue is the conflict that exits between the culinary union and the Fertittas and the ownership groups, the position of power they have in New York. The real issue is the conflict that exist which has been an enormous barrier of entry and the singular barrier of entry stopping MMA in the great state of New York .
Scifighting: Regards to the culinary union, how long do you feel they will be able to monopolize NYS, CT just passed their commission. There right next door to us and we are the only state without Professional MMA. Not having a solid commission is hurting the sport. We produce a lot of really great athletes .There is a lot of Talent here, and lack of ability to use the talent how long will they be able to monopolize the state?.
Bjorn: That’s a really good question and it’s a question I am torn on, I am MMA promoter im CEO and chair of the worlds second largest promotion. I would love to see MMA in ny it’s the media center of this country, its largest media market we have…I would love to be in NY. I feel the conflict. I have a lot of family members who lives have been dramatically improved because of the fight a union has taken on their behalf. I understand the conflict and the fight I am a tough spot and as a promoter of mixed martial arts and executive producer of a show on SPIKE. I would love to see it in NY, it belongs in NY it would be incredibly successful in NY, it would generate great for the economy but at the same time I understand the fight and the conflict. I understand why the unions have such animosity towards to Fertittas. It’s a difficult question to answer, and I don’t know that there will be a resolution any time soon, but nobody should be mistaken as to what is at the core of the problem.
Scifighting: People have indicated the violence of the sport, or it isn’t going to create enough revenue. You don’t really know where anyone stands on their argument and its been several years of being pushed through and pushed back.
Bjorn: Part of the problem that has been created by the conflict between the Fertittas and the union is that the Fertittas have put something in play to make arguments that do not help the sport and the arguments like, it doesn’t generate revenue is ridiculous. The argument to violence in the game doesn’t hold water because if you track actually subtenant data you will see that boxing is a far more dangerous sport relative to any viable measurement tool when it comes to participants. It has forced people to espouse an argument that really is not at the core of the issue….unions have an issue with fratisi and if people would work with that to reach a resolution and reach a settlement you would be shocked at how quickly NY would be able to embrace Mixed Martial arts.
Knowing how one of the largest promotions in the industry feels about legalization I decided to talk to one of its fighters, who resides in NY and has the difficulty of not having legalization in his home state, Michelle Mucittili.
Scifighting: Cuomo reported in a press release what is MMA willing to make a commitment to the state in terms of events where they should be….we think an event upstate NY has potential to draw people in, are they going to have an economic impacts that would be persuasive” What would you say about the ability of the sport to bring in revenue for NYS?
Mucitelli: Upstate NY has spawned champions in the highest levels of competition, has a huge collegiate and high school wrestling base, and several top MMA schools. Local shows have filled local arenas for the last few years. Upstate NY is dying for high level MMA bouts, but just allowing the UFC (who has pledged multiple upstate NY bouts per year) isn’t the whole game. You’ll find local shows can bring in fighters from surrounding states, fill local hotels, have local stores shopped at, and the money goes back into the local schools and businesses that host the events.
It’s not just about bringing the big leagues into NY, but bringing an entire sport and a huge industry with it. Local events raise awareness of a sport, a sport people want to train with, in local schools, supplying lessons, equipment, employing trainers, cleaners for the gym.. the list just goes on and on.
Scifighting: Speaking on the sport of MMA, a lot of the resistance claims to come from the “violence” of the sport Being you’re an athlete who lives and breath the sport what would you say to them?
Mucitelli: Simply put: get educated. Those that make the assumption base it off of a bloody highlight video or flash KO they saw once. The fact of the matter is there are less recorded deaths in professional MMA competition history than in cheerleading. Boxing is one of the oldest sports around, and is far more dangerous than MMA. In MMA the purpose isn’t just a KO. There are multiple paths and targets to attack. In boxing the main purpose is just to KO, done by attacking the head and brain. In MMA you attack legs and body more frequently, there are takedowns, and submissions. Many fights (including one of my own professional bouts) have ended without any strikes at all.
Scifighting : Before you talked a little bit about one of your fights, can you tell me what difficulties you have had getting where you are in MMA being it isn’t legalized in your home state.
Mucitelli: It’s something that’s been incredibly hard. When I started there weren’t even the local amateur shows, so coming up through the ranks, all of my fights were on the road. That meant taking time off from work to travel, staying overnight at a hotel with just a coach or corner (if they could make it), entering the arena to a chorus of boos, and generally being set up to lose. As the away team on the local circuit, you’re usually brought in to fight the hometown hero, to add a W to their column. Even getting fights is harder. You can’t just put out feelers to your local gyms, you have to hope to know somebody who knows somebody and search online, and then take what fights you can get. Besides it all, without as much exposure locally, many people struggle to understand what it is you even are doing. You do it anonymously on the road instead in front of friends and family. The difficulty of being a NY MMA fighter drives away many talented athletes from the sport.
Scifighting : Why legalize in NY? What are the benefits all around? How would you convince Albany?
Mucitelli: NY is the only state not reaping the benefits of a regulated sport. Beyond the USA, the sport flourishes worldwide. Those that stand against the sport base their opinions on outdated images of MMA. Judging MMA by what was originally outlawed is no different than trying to judge modern football’s safety by the leather helmeted scraps from which the sport originated. The benefits go just beyond a financial boost which our state is in desperate need of (which are enormous and have been covered endlessly).
When you talk about combat sports such as boxing, karate, kickboxing, wrestling, etc… you often hear about how they’re amazing positive outlets for the misguided, a way for children to learn discipline and honor, and that they’re great ways to stay in shape for the casual athlete. Yet somehow there is a misconception that when you mix martial arts, it becomes barbaric. Anyone that doubts MMA is a positive influence to have in our state should spend a little time at their local gym, viewing first hand the dedication of the athletes, learning the safety precautions put in place, and meeting the faces of those truly involved; rather than making sweeping generalizations based off decade’s old information and outdated views.
New York is the lone state having this issue, we produce a lot of amazing fighters just waiting in the amateur game for professional shows in New York. Fighters from other states have 1-5 amateur fights before going pro, whereas in New York they could have up to 15 due to lack of ability to go professional because of lack of opportunities and resources. The New York Fan base alone could help the economy, so why are we still sitting on a sport that could help the State of New York.