A bill to allow mixed martial arts events to be held in New York may finally be headed for approval after years in limbo.
The full contact sport that includes elements of boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts is banned in New York, but is legal in nearly every other state in the country and has a growing fan base. The sport’s top promotion company, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, regularly holds sold-out events in arenas across the country and the world, including in Britain, Canada and Brazil.
But the law bans the events from taking place in New York. The state Senate has passed legislation approving the sport multiple times with support from senators in both parties, but each time it has died in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
But now the lower house may actually hold a vote on a proposal that was passed by the Senate earlier this month.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) said Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), long an opponent of MMA, will bring the bill to the floor if it has majority support among Assembly Democrats.
“He said it was up to the caucus,” Goldfeder said, adding that he supports the legalization. “It’s crazy that other states have it and we don’t.”
He said he believes the sport may have majority support in the caucus, but multiple sources say the bill does have and has had for some time. Democrats alone won’t need their votes to pass the bill. MMA is an issue that does not fall along party lines. A number of Republicans in both houses support the idea, while a number of Democrats do not.
But in Queens, where all state legislators are Democrats, most have endorsed it. State Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) have backed Senate legislation.
Last year, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) also endorsed bringing MMA to New York.
“It’s time we embrace the sport,” she responded on Twitter to a question on her position.
Besides Simotas, Assembly members Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), Vivian Cook (D-South Jamaica), Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) also backed legislation to legalize the sport that never got to the Assembly floor last session.
Hevesi is among the sports strongest supporters, penning an op-ed favoring it for the June 9, 2011 Queens Chronicle.
Mixed martial arts is often violent and can turn bloody. Some fighters have suffered concussions and broken limbs during bouts. The sport’s perceived brutality has often been used by opponents to prevent its legalization and was the primary reason it was banned in New York in 1997.
In a joint statement to legislative leaders last week, the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence as well as the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women asked Albany leaders to oppose the sport.
“No state that aspires to be the ‘progressive capital of the nation,’ as Gov. Cuomo asserted in his recent State of the State speech, should lower itself by embracing an industry dominated by a company that tolerates joking about sexual violence,” the statement read. “Fighters in the UFC have joked about rape in public and one has appeared in videos that are demeaning to women and make fun of sexual violence.”
Some have also questioned the labor practices of organizations like the UFC. Opposition has also come from the Culinary Union of Las Vegas — where UFC is based — who supporters have alleged were using their labor ties in the union-heavy state to influence legislators to keep a bill favoring MMA from coming to a vote. The UFC has often noted that it provides jobs for union workers during its events.The New York State Catholic Conference has also opposed MMA here, citing the sport’s violent nature.
But at a press conference earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo said the sport could become a revenue boost for the state.
“I think it’s making progress and it’s something we’re looking at for possible revenue,” Cuomo said.
In another press conference last week, Cuomo again said he is considering legalization of MMA, and was especially interested in any economic benefit.
“I want to understand the economics for the state. What does it mean?” he said. “So they could have one match, and one match does what? They have 10 matches, they have 20 matches — what is the actual economic impact for the state?”
The UFC has held events close to New York: in Newark and the Meadowlands in New Jersey and Montreal, Canada. Supporters of legalizing the sport in New York say it already has a fan base here. The popularity of MMA has led sports bars and grills to regularly advertise special deals to watch UFC events, which are broadcast on Pay-Per-View.
The state has a number of venues that could host MMA events, including Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and a number of sites in upstate cities including Buffalo and Rochester, which have arenas that could host events. UFC President Dana White has hinted he would be interested in hosting an event at MSG in November, but that could upset supporters from upstate, looking to bring events there. Cuomo even mentioned upstate as an area that could benefit economically from hosting MMA events.
New York State is home to a number of notable UFC fighters including Matt Serra and Chris Weidman, both from Nassau County; Rashad Evans from Niagara Falls and Jon Jones from Rochester.