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Women voice support for MMA in Albany

Ronda Rousey reacts after defeating Sara McMann following

Ronda Rousey reacts after defeating Sara McMann following a UFC 170 mixed martial arts women's bantamweight title fight on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Las Vegas. (Credit: AP)

The argument put forth by those opposed to legalizing mixed martial arts in New York that the sport is anti-female and misogynistic came about as a talking point in the first quarter of 2013.

In the past 16 months, the UFC has headlined two pay-per-views with female fighter Ronda Rousey, put female fighters on its TV show “The Ultimate Fighter,” had female coaches on “TUF,” added female strawweights as a new division and will feature those 105-pounders on the 20th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” with the winner of the show becoming the champion. Quite a far cry from the day when UFC president Dana White declared that women would never fight inside the octagon.

On Wednesday, several women were in Albany to help lobby for the State Assembly to pass the bill to legalize MMA. New York remains the only state in the country, and the only place in North America, with a ban on professional MMA. Amateur MMA is legal in New York, though, and yet another such show is scheduled for this Saturday at the Sons of Italy in Deer Park.

“I’ve trained in MMA and now share that training with fellow sorority sisters and others on campus to help improve self-discipline and to provide skills necessary to resist an attack,” said Juliet Shen, a junior at Albany. “For me and for many other young women, MMA is an empowering experience.”

“I got interested in MMA training as a result of being bullied in school,” said Chelsie Dessingue, a Hoosic Valley High School sophomore. “I’ve never used the skills I’ve learned aggressively or to hurt anyone but I can assure you I am no longer the victim of bullying and nobody will try bulling anyone in front of me – well, not if they’re smart.”

Michael Pascale, an MMA instructor and graduate student at Albany in women’s studies, also attended the press event.

“Martial arts training is a beautiful thing,” he said. “It teaches you that aggression and violence toward you is not to be tolerated and that you are worth fighting for. Yet it teaches you to avoid violence at all costs unless absolutely necessary.”
The State Senate has passed the bill each of the past four years only to see it stall in committee in the Assembly each year. It has never reached the floor for a full vote by the Assembly.

“It’s up to my Democratic conference and if there are enough votes for it to pass,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (Manhattan) told the Daily Gazette. “I don’t think anything has changed since last year. But I can’t tell you the end result.”

The biggest opponent to legalizing MMA in New York has been the Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. They have a long-running dispute with the non-union Station Casinos in Nevada, which are owned by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, who also own UFC’s parent company Zuffa LLC.

To combat the news conference Wednesday in Albany, the strategic consulting and communications firm Metropolitan Public Strategies on behalf of its client, the Culinary Union, sent an email with links to what it called “some of the ‘lowlights’” of MMA. It included stories written about a study from the University of Toronto that said MMA fighters have a higher risk of brain injury than boxers, an opinion piece from the popular sports blog Deadspin and several other stories about former fighters who ran afoul of the law.

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