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New York: the “State” of Professional MMA?

Photo via Wikipedia.

A new bill to legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York passed through the state’s Senate in Albany yesterday. This is not the first time such a bill has been proposed as it has been debated for five consecutive years.  With the New York state senate voting in favor of Legalizing MMA the bill has passed one major hurdle. The vote was 44-16 on Tuesday and amoung those supporting the bill and lobbying for it’s approval, Mixed Martial Artist, Alexis Davis and Paula Waddell (a local advocate for legalization in New York with the group MMA4NY )were leading the pack. Waddell stated “As an advocate for legalizing MMA I’ve met some great people and fighters. One problem we are having is that some assembly “women” think MMA victimizes women, but it actually does the exact opposite. MMA4NY helps bring out the voices of females in the MMA world and their experiences, so as to change the opinion of the sport to those who are misinformed or misunderstand”.

Although Senate approval is a positive sign the battle isn’t over yet. In order for Professional MMA to be legalized in New York, the bill must also pass the assembly. This is perhaps the most challenging portion of the bill’s approval process, as each time a similar bill has been proposed it was the state assembly that blocked it’s ratification. Sheldon Silver, the state Assembly Speaker, has refused to bring it for a vote and the calendar year ends on June 19th.  With time running out this bill may see even more delays before it is either approved or quashed by the state assembly.

Amateur MMA is still legal in the state of New York, and Professional MMA is legal in every other state in North America, but a conflict involving the majority owners (Lorenzo and Frank Ferttita) of the largest MMA Promotions Company in the world (UFC) and the Las Vegas Culinary Union has created a political nightmare for MMA legalization in New York and that affects more than just the UFC.  Bjorn Rebney, CEO of Bellator MMA, has give us his perspective on the matter in an interview with us earlier this year, “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 Frattitas 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.”

SciFighting also spoke with Bellator Pro fighter Michael Mucitelli about legalization of the sport and its potential benefits to him as well as other MMA athletes. Mucitelli stated “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.”

Earlier this month we reported on a recent study highlighted by UFC Senior Executive Vice-President Ike Lawrence Epstein that projected $135 million in economic activity in New York from professional MMA were it to be legalized. In the article Epstein also states “We hear elected officials across New York advocating for economic development and jobs. UFC and other MMA promoters are ready to provide some of that economic development and tourism that leads to jobs in New York,”

There are clearly many benefits to the legalization of MMA in New York state.  Remaining in the minority, supporting a ban on the sport, doesn’t appear to be a strategy that can be maintained indefinitely.  And while some politicians may oppose legalization, like many other popular trends, it’s only a matter of time before those resistant to popular demand are filtered out of the political system and replaced with representatives that are more “representative” of their constituency.  In the mean time, we will continue to follow these events as they unfold.