New York’s State Assembly voted to legalize mixed martial arts on Tuesday, making the state the last to allow the sport some critics feel is too violent. The vote was 113-25 in favor of overturning the sport’s ban, which was enacted in 1997 under Gov. George Pataki amid safety concerns.
“Every year, you’re just hopeful,” former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, 31, of Baldwin said on a conference call Tuesday night. “For it to finally happen is a dream come true for me.”
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The legislation, which passed through four committees on Tuesday before reaching the Assembly floor, will go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his consideration. The governor included MMA revenue in his 2016-17 proposed state budget earlier this year. Should Gov. Cuomo not sign or veto the bill within 10 days of it being sent to him, the bill automatically will goes into effect.
“New York is the biggest market in the United States for us already, from a pay-per-view standpoint,” UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said. “We’re looking to lliterally break the gate records at each arena we go to, and that includes Madison Square Garden when we eventually get there, hopefully by the fourth quarter this year.”
Fertitta said he is hopeful of putting on one or two fight cards in New York before the end of 2016. Madison Square Garden likely would host one, but Fertitta was “not so sure about” it being the first one. It would depend on how available dates at arenas line up. The UFC has said several times in the past few months that it had a date reserved in November for MSG.
“The minute the vote passed, our team started calling arenas to see what dates were available,” Fertitta said as he mentioned Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica as other potential host cities.
The New York State Athletic Commission will have 120 days from the time Cuomo signs the bill to adopt guidelines and regulations for use as the sanctioning body, clearing the way for events in New York later this year.
“I have been waiting for this day since driving to New Jersey for my first amateur fight in 2006,” UFC fighter Al Iaquinta of Wantagh told Newsday via text message. “I can’t wait to finally fight at home in front of my family and friends!”
Tuesday’s vote marked the culmination of an eight-year fight to bring sanctioned and regulated fighting to New York. The State Senate passed the legislation each of the past seven years, including twice in 2015. Each year, the bill stalled in the Assembly. UFC chief operating office Lawrence Epstein said the UFC spent slightly more than $2 million in lobbying in New York over that time.
“Exhiliration,” said Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “I was comparing it to an eight-year pregnancy. Finally the baby is born today.”
The Assembly debated for more than three hours Tuesday before the vote. Some members raised concerns about the long-term health implications and the possibility of traumatic brain injuries. Others argued that the sport is safer than it was in its earlier days.
“What we seek to do essentially is to take the sport out of the shadows in New York,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, referring to amateur MMA events that have been happening in New York for several years without oversight.
Mixed martial arts combines boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, judo, Muay Thai and other single-discipline martial arts.
Cuomo, at a political event in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, reiterated his support for MMA “because it is an economic generator.” He added that promoters are committed to staging bouts “in areas that would bring people from out of state into New York.”
According to the bill, the state would collect three percent tax on both gross receipts of ticket sales and broadcast fees (each is capped at $50,000 per event). There also is the economic impact of events, which include hotel stays, food and beverage and other spending associated with travel and tourism.
“An historic day for New York and its rapidly growing MMA community,” UFC fighter Chris Wade of Islip told Newsday via text message. “I have dreamed of competing in my home state since I began fighting, MSG awaits!”
Fertitta promised “an epic moment” when the UFC brings its first major fight card to MSG. Expect the biggest names possible at the time, along with a heavy New York flavor.
“We want them,” Fertitta said of his New York-based fighters, “to finally have that experience of fighting at home.”
The UFC may not necessarily be the first MMA promotion to host a fight card in New York. Bellator MMA and World Series of Fighting each have expressed interest in coming to New York. Smaller promotions likely would put on events in the state.
“We at Bellator MMA are very much looking forward to hosting an event in the ‘Crown Jewel of America,’ New York,” Bellator president Scott Coker said in a statement. “Two Bellator champions, Liam McGeary and Marcos Galvao call New York home and I know it means a great deal to the both of them, as it does for the entire promotion.”