New York State Assembly shoots down MMA bill

Georges St-Pierre, left, lands a knee to the

Georges St-Pierre, left, lands a knee to the body of Nick Diaz en route to a unanimous decision title defense at UFC 158 in Montreal. (March 16, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Perhaps next year, fight fans.

The bill to legalize professional mixed martial arts in New York won't be voted on by the State Assembly this legislative session after a meeting of the Democratic Conference on Tuesday night.

“The conference has asked not to put it on the agenda,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) told reporters in Albany.

This is the fourth straight year in which the State Senate passed the bill and the Assembly failed to bring it to the floor for a full vote, despite having 64 sponsors attached to it. A simple majority of the Assembly's 150 members is all that is needed to pass the bill. The Democrats control 100 seats in the Assembly.

"While I respect the folks in my conference who don't support this bill, I still see that New York is the last state in the country that does not legalize MMA," Assemb. Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) told Newsday. "I’m very disappointed in the result that we couldn’t get it to the floor of the Assembly for a full vote."

Two weeks ago, Connecticut and Canada passed legislation that would sanction MMA events, leaving New York State as the only entity in North America with a ban on the sport.

Opposition to the bill in New York has come from many different areas over the years, mainly led by the Culinary Union of Las Vegas. The group has had a long-standing labor dispute with Station Casinos, which are owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertitta brothers are also majority owners of Zuffa LLC, parent company to the UFC, the biggest MMA promotion in the world.

"If New York's leaders really do have a commitment to fanning a growing business climate in the state, they have a heck of a way of showing it," UFC chairman, Lorenzo Fertitta, said in a statement. "We genuinely feel bad for the hotels, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses that support our effort and have championed this cause. We also feel bad for New York's arenas -- large and small, particularly those upstate -- that are struggling and have worked alongside us to pass the legislation. I guess New York's loss will continue to be New Jersey's, Massachusetts', Pennsylvania's and Toronto's gain."

A letter signed by 35 Democrats opposing MMA was sent to Silver earlier this month.

Several women's groups also have protested the sport as being misogynistic, one of the new arguments this year. Silver has come under fire this session for his handling of a sexual harassment charge against Assemb. Vito Lopez. Some political analysts had written that the combination of criticism of Silver and women's groups speaking out against MMA would help keep the bill from the coming to a vote this year.

“This year’s new, absurd, offensive, and completely erroneous charge used to justify the defeat of MMA legislation was that MMA is anti-woman and leads to domestic violence," Fertitta said in his statement. "This is a deception fabricated by a Las Vegas union that is recklessly and callously trying to use an important societal issue to try and punish the UFC. It isn’t honest and doesn’t work."

Other groups have said the sport promotes anti-gay behavior.

"Well, as an openly gay guy, I can tell you, I don't think so," Assemb. Matthew Titone of Staten Island said recently. "There is not one sport that does not have athletes who have been known to be racist, who have been known to be homophobic or any other really bad behavior. That does not mean the sport promotes bad behavior."

Professional MMA has been illegal in New York since 1997, when the sport was unregulated and unsanctioned. The unified rules of MMA were written and adopted in 2001, establishing weight classes and abolishing certain moves such as eye gouging, head butts, groin strikes and fish-hooking. Each state athletic commission reserves the right to ban other strikes such as throwing elbows.

UFC, the world's largest MMA promotion, has lobbied for years to overturn the ban first enacted by Gov. George E. Pataki in 1997. The UFC has promised to hold four events in New York in each of the first three years once the sport becomes legal. That includes a fight night at Madison Square Garden, plus events across upstate in cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

"Strong majorities of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate support this bill and we know if we could only get a vote in the Assembly, we would see strong majorities of Democrats and Republicans supporting the bill there," Fertitta said.

Under the proposed bill, New York State would collect 8.5 percent sales taxes on gross ticket receipts and 3 percent of gross receipts for broadcast rights, capped at $50,000. There is additional economic impact from hotels, restaurants, shopping -- an estimated $23 million per year statewide, according to a 2011 independent study by strategic firm HR&A Advisors.

"New York 'open for business,' " wrote Marc Ratner, the UFC's vice president of regulatory affairs in a text message to Newsday. "Not for MMA!"

“I’m very disappointed,” Ratner later said by telephone. “This circumvents the Democratic process. We have 64 sponsors. Yes, some of the people in the Assembly are against it. But to not to get a vote is disillusioning to me. It’s patently unfair.”

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