ALBANY — New York will require $1 million coverage for life-threatening brain injuries and other new health insurance for both professional boxers and its first group of licensed mixed martial artists under regulations slated to take effect in September.
The State Athletic Commission, which already regulates pro boxing, is carrying out the decision by the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to legalize professional mixed martial arts and revamp oversight of combat sports generally. Regulation varies among states. New York’s $1 million coverage appears to be the highest insurance minimum in the U.S.
The detailed plan, still subject to public comments, will formally end New York’s opposition to the combination of wrestling, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu inside an enclosure. The amateur sport has grown in the state unregulated, though the commission is authorized to establish its oversight as well.
“The New York State Athletic Commission has taken another step toward ensuring the health, safety and integrity of its athletes and events,” the commission said, while declining to discuss specifics. “The commission looks forward to receiving feedback from all stakeholders before finalizing rules and its implementation.”
Higher insurance was one concession to critics, however, some still wanted the violent sport banned. Others wanted better protection for fighters, several of whom came to Albany to lobby for legalization.
The insurance minimums were specified in the law. In addition to the $1 million in brain injury coverage, provisions require $50,000 coverage for other injuries, up from the longstanding minimum of $7,500 for boxers, and a $50,000 death benefit, down from $100,000 for boxers. The commission acknowledged some small promoters may find the overall insurance cost “problematic” — estimating it will cost $7,500 to $9,000 for a 10-bout card — but said it would be against the fighters’ best interests and the intent of lawmakers to lower the minimums.
Officials at the California State Athletic Commission said their requirement is for $50,000 medical coverage and were unaware of any other state requiring $1 million for possible brain injuries.
Michael Mazzulli, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, agreed, adding “I believe in fighter safety. If that’s what New York thinks it needs, I’m all for it.”
Supporters say mixed martial arts has evolved from early unregulated days with a set of unified rules widely used. Prohibited acts include strikes to the spine, back of the head or throat; head butts; and stomping a grounded opponent.
Fighters also can be disqualified for downward strikes with the point of the elbow, kneeing or kicking a downed opponent in the head, “spiking” an opponent to the floor on his or her head or neck and heel kicks to the kidney.
The UFC, the sport’s largest promotion and lead lobbyist in Albany, has announced plans to hold a Nov. 12 show at Madison Square Garden. UFC officials declined to discuss the regulations.
The commission also proposed prohibiting promoters from acting as managers, limiting management contracts to three years, requiring fighters get paid at least $150 after all expenses are deducted from purses, and that they get at least 50 percent of all ring earnings after those deductions.
The governor’s office has estimated the sport will yield almost $140 million in annual economic activity in New York from gym expansions and about 70 yearly mixed martial arts events.