Ryan LaFlare tries to raise awareness for bill to legalize MMA in NY

New York State Assemblymen from Staten Island joined with several UFC fighters from Long Island and Manhattan to promote the sport of mixed martial arts and dispel many of the pre-conceived notions some people have about legalizing MMA in New York State. Videojournalist: Mark LaMonica (June 2, 2013)

There's Ryan LaFlare, the middleweight fighter in the UFC. And there's Ryan LaFlare, co-owner of Long Island MMA in Farmingdale and cornerman for several of the mixed martial artists from his gym.

Whether the Copiague resident is stepping into the octagon or standing outside the cage, one thing remains the same: That structure can't legally hold two MMA fighters for a professional bout in New York State.

"I just think it's ridiculous," LaFlare said Sunday. "I'm almost appalled that it's not here in New York."

LaFlare was part of a group of UFC fighters and state Assemblymen at a press event at Staten Island's Borough Hall to raise awareness for the bill to legalize MMA in New York. Connecticut is the only other state that bans MMA; legislation is pending there as well.

Assemb. Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) said the event also was aimed at trying to publicly dispel some pre-conceived notions that detractors may have about MMA.

"This is a real sport," Borelli said. "This is a great sport. It's here. No matter how much they wish, hope and pray, it's not just going to go away."

Borelli was joined by Assemb. Matthew Titone (D-North Shore), both of whom are among the 64 sponsors attached to the bill, which passed through the state Senate in March for a fourth consecutive year. It has never reached the Assembly floor for a full vote. A simple majority is all that's needed for the bill to pass the 150-member Assembly and reach Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature. The legislative session ends June 20.

The governor had been quiet on the issue until this year. He has said favorable things about the sport's economic impact and ability to boost tourism, which would seem to fit with the $60 million he committed to increasing tourism and his creation of the Sports and Special Events Commission.

"The revenue that New York State is giving to New Jersey and to Connecticut and our other 48 states, it's sad when we have economic difficulties and when we have an economic engine knocking on our door begging to do business here," Titone said.

That economic engine is the UFC, the largest MMA promotion in the world.

The battle to legalize MMA in New York is one of the more controversial pieces of legislation. It touches on finance, health, violence, sports and politics, to name a few.

But what's the real-world impact for fighters from New York? A quick glimpse into LaFlare's travel schedule this weekend can answer that.

LaFlare, about to become a father for the second time in mid-June, had to leave the state on Saturday in order to provide for his family. He drove to Philadelphia on Saturday morning to corner one of his fighters in a professional MMA bout that night.

LaFlare arrived back home in the early hours of Sunday morning. Then he had to watch his daughter wave goodbye to him a few hours later as he left for Staten Island, where he was joined by UFC featherweight Dennis Bermudez of West Islip and UFC middleweight Uriah Hall of Manhattan.

"I wouldn't have to leave two days before their fight and take time out of my own training and away from my family to go out to Jersey or go to Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, go to weigh-ins and support my fighters when I could just drive to a venue, come back, take care of my personal life, then go to their fight and come home that same night," LaFlare said. "Sometimes I have to take three or four days out of my life to support my local fighters, amateur and professional."

That's the trainer and gym owner side of LaFlare's career. As for the fighting, each of LaFlare's seven pro fights before making his UFC debut in April in Sweden took place in Atlantic City.

"I'm bringing 200, 300 people to New Jersey; they're spending all their money in New Jersey," LaFlare said. "And that's money that could be going to New York. They're spending money on hotels. They're spending money gambling. They're spending money going out to eat and making weekends out of it when they could be going to the city or going to the hotels and restaurants by Nassau Coliseum."

Those opposed to legalizing MMA in New York often speak of the violent nature of the sport and how fighters are allowed to strike a downed opponent and use submission chokeholds.

Bermudez went the distance with Max Holloway in a tough fight in Las Vegas on May 25 and earned his fourth straight win. The fight included punches to the face (as in boxing), kicks to the body (as in kickboxing) and grappling on the ground (as in wrestling).

"I just fought last weekend and I think I still look pretty handsome," Bermudez said. "I don't have any more bumps and bruises than when I played football in high school."

Titone mentioned two of the talking points from the opposition, that of Neo-Nazi and homophobic slurs.

"Well, as an openly gay guy, I can tell you, I don't think so," Titone said. "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."

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