It was the culmination of more than eight years of work by Ratner and other UFC executives to finally get the bill passed.
It has been a stressful process. Professional MMA events took place in New York in the sport’s early days, including UFC 7 in Buffalo in 1995. It was banned in 1997 when then-Gov. George Pataki pushed through a law to outlaw any further events, though a loophole did still allow amateur shows.
The current ownership of the UFC took control in 2001, just as the modern rules were being established. Ratner was hired five years later as the push began to have the sport sanctioned not only in every state, but around the world. One by one, jurisdictions came around.
“We’ve been to almost every state legislature between California and Maine and been to legislatures all throughout the world,” UFC COO Lawrence Epstein said. “New York, though it took a lot longer than any of those other jurisdictions, things were pretty much the same.
“This is really just an education process. It took us a little longer to get things done, but it’s essentially what we’ve done in every jurisdiction. Ultimately, the facts and rational arguments were the winners at the end of the day.”
Epstein and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta estimated the organization spent more than $2 million lobbying for this legislation over the last eight years.
Fertitta, however, said no celebration was planned. That will come when the UFC holds its first event in the state.
According to Fertitta, the organization could hold two events in the state before the end of 2016. It’s very possible a smaller card will be held upstate in the fall with a potential mega-event at Madison Square Garden in November if all goes according to plan.
Fertitta said having mixed martial arts sanctioned in every state was an important part of the plan to grow the sport the company began when Zuffa purchased the UFC in 2001.
“We invested in the sport no differently than we’ve done over the last 15 or 16 years. It’s part of the process. You hire lobbyists, you go in and talk about what your position is and try to educate people. This process took us eight years. Finally we were able to get it done,” he said. “The biggest change was at the top with Speaker Heastie who, whether he supported the bill or not, was willing to let the democratic process play out. The same can’t be said for the prior speaker.
“Now we can move on from what has been talked about in the past and focus on trying to put on big events.”
Fertitta said the goal will be to break live-gate records in each of the state’s venues in which the organization hosts events, including Madison Square Garden.
“New York is the biggest market for us in the United States already from a pay-per-view standpoint. It’s the most important media market in the United States and probably the world,” he said. “We have high expectations that when we do events at Madison Square Garden or at the arenas upstate. We think it’s going to be great for the fighters and the industry. It’s not just the UFC. We’ll see other promotions like Bellator, which is owned by Viacom, going there. You’ll also have midsize and smaller promoters. I think you’ll see a lot of economic activity in the state. I think it’s going to be a big deal.”