New York is the only state in which Mixed Martial Arts is banned, and the controversy surrounding the sport is ongoing in Albany.
In response to a bill that would legalize MMA, 35 Assembly Democrats wrote a letter to Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), a longtime opponent of MMA, asking him to hold the line in opposition.
Assembly members Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside) and Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), who have supported Silver in the past, signed the letter that accuses the combat sport as being “brutal and barbaric.” The letter also points to a disturbing video of professional MMA fighter “Rampage” Jackson and calls the sport anti-woman and anti-gay.
“The hateful incidences associated with MMA and the violent nature of the sport raise serious concerns about the adverse effect that legalizing professional MMA events in New York could have on the well-being of our citizens, especially our children,” the letter stated.
The biggest promotion company for Mixed Martial Arts, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, holds events throughout the country and around the world.
On April 18 the Executive Vice President and COO of UFC, Ike Lawrence Epstein, wrote a letter to Silver stating that the UFC would not condone derogatory remarks made by its members.
Epstein wrote that it is the responsibility “for the UFC and all corporations — sports, entertainment and otherwise — operating in New York State and throughout the United States to do their part to root out speech and conduct derogatory toward women or that in any way perpetuates an environment that condones violence toward women, racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry.”
He added that Silver “should not support legislation or any policy banning any sport, any form of entertainment or any organization from conducting business in New York because its agents engage in conduct unbecoming,” adding that Silver should not let the behavior of one individual affect his perception of the UFC, and the sport, as a whole.
While domestic violence groups and women’s groups are urging Silver to uphold the ban, most state legislators in Queens have shown support for the sport.
In June 2011, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) wrote an op-ed for the Queens Chronicle in which he backed the legalization of MMA, drawing attention to the discipline and evolution of the sport.
“But today’s MMA has been changed into one of the most highly regulated sports, with appropriate weight classes and rules, professional referees and medical personnel mandated to protect the fighters,” Hevesi wrote. “Not only has the fighting changed, but the fighters have as well.”
Julio Rivera, the head instructor of Omni Martial Arts in Astoria, said, “I think people that are looking to keep MMA illegal are just misinformed. It reminds people of gladiators, but there is so much skill involved.”
“It’s much safer than boxing where you’re getting repeatedly punched in the head,” Rivera said, adding that MMA referees look to stop fights before they start.
Supporters of the sport also point to the financial effects MMA would have.
“It’s been highly regulated over the last several years and I see no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of the economic benefit of allowing MMA in New York City,” Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said.
A statement from state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) read, “Hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars are leaving New York due to our being the only state in the nation that prohibits Mixed Martial Arts.”
The statement continued, “Allowing a well-regulated MMA is a surefire way to inject a much-needed boost into our economy, from New York City venues like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center to upstate cities like Rochester and Buffalo. We should not miss the opportunity.”