Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday signed into law the bill legalizing professional mixed martial arts in New York during a ceremony at Madison Square Garden.
Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman and CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced that the first UFC event will be at the Garden on Nov. 12.
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“It was a long time coming, but it happened, and good things are worth the wait,” Cuomo said. “This was worth the wait.”
Cuomo was joined at the signing ceremony by former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman and Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan.
New York was the only state to still have a ban on mixed martial arts, which combines boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu and other martial arts. It was banned by Gov. George Pataki in 1997 amid safety concerns. After the State Senate approved the bill eight times in the past seven years, the Assembly approved the bill on March 22.
While the bill is now law, no events will take place until Sept. 1, which also is the state athletic commission’s deadline to have rules and regulations set.
Cuomo, who pledged support for the bill and included MMA revenue in his most recent budget, touted the potential monetary impact of future events around the state, citing estimates of almost $100 million in new revenue.
“We did miss out on the economics for many years,” Cuomo said. “That is now restored, and I think we are going to be making up for that forthwith.”
For New York’s top fighters, the opportunity to compete in their home state is a welcome change after years of disappointment.
“I always thought it was going to happen way earlier,” said Weidman, who is from Baldwin. “But every year, it was nope, nope, nope. I got to a point where I thought it was never going to happen.”
Weidman, along with other fighters, made numerous trips to Albany and other cities to lobby state legislators the past few years.
“You talked to all the senators and assemblymen and there was a lot of support,” Weidman said. “You would always think it would pass, but then it never would.”
Rousey was among those who lobbied for MMA in New York. She called fighting at the Garden a “dream come true.”
“This is a huge day for us,” Rousey said. “We really have to thank the legislature and Governor Cuomo, thank you so much for all the support and giving me faith in the system again.”
Weidman and other area fighters are looking forward to buying their families train tickets instead of plane tickets to see them compete. Weidman already has a bout scheduled in June, but is hoping he will fight on Nov. 12 as well.
“This is going to be one of the biggest shows the UFC’s ever done,” Weidman said.
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in Madison Square Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.