MMA in New York took one step closer to becoming a reality Wednesday afternoon when the State Senate passed the bill to legalize and regulate the sport of mixed martial arts.
The vote on Bill No. S2165B was 32-26. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) was the lone state senator from Long Island to vote in favor of the bill.
"The bill is very clear, it is going to be a regulated sport," Johnson said. "We in Long Island already promote numerous sports events that have a violent aspect to it, be it the Islanders or pro wrestling, or any number of boxing events. MMA is a legitimate sport."
Voting against bringing the sport of MMA to New York were Republicans John Flanagan of East Northport, Owen Johnson of West Babylon, Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson, Carl Marcellino of Syosset, Charles Fuschillo of Merrick, Kemp Hannon of Garden City, Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre and Democrat Brian Foley of Blue Point.
“At what point is society going to make a decision that for a few coins, you can do anything,” LaValle said. “This goes over the top in terms of violence. It’s not the kind of thing that we want to accentuate in our society.”
The bill has now been referred to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and if it passes there, it will then be eligible to be voted on by the full Assembly. The legislature's last day to meet is scheduled for Monday, June 21, but it is possible they will agree to extend the session several days while they work to pass a budget.
So, it's possible that the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York could happen by the end of the month.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Marc Ratner, vice president of regulatory affairs for UFC, the sport’s premier organization. “We feel we made a real good case to have the sport approved in the state of New York.”
The UFC’s approach has been a matter of “when” not “if” it comes to New York. It’s the biggest media market, and one of four remaining states with athletic commissions to ban the sport. Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia are the other three. Alabama and Alaska are the only two states without athletic commissions, and the UFC has expressed no interest there.
UFC has invested many resources into making it happen. Still, given the amount of time it has taken the UFC to get this far in rewriting the law, there’s room for doubt.
But, as Ratner said of Wednesday’s Senate vote, “It’s still a win.” Plus, Gov. David A. Paterson's budget includes the legalization of MMA.
The doubt lies in the Assembly, where Bob Reilly (D-Latham) has been the most vocal opponent.
“First of all, it’s a very vicious sport, and I believe that violence begets violence,” Reilly said. “You just can’t have people beating each other. You can’t expose children to that -- and I know it’s on TV -- and expect them not to do it.”
Sounds no different than boxing, right? When asked that same question, Reilly said that if boxing came up to be legalized now, he didn’t think that would pass either.
"People have died in professional boxing," Johnson said. "People have been tragically injured in hockey and football. I'm not aware of any deaths in MMA."
Correct. Ratner and UFC president Dana White have repeatedly made that fact a talking point.
For MMA fans, this is the biggest news of the week. For state residents and legislators, once you cut through all the rhetoric said at Wednesday’s session, MMA represents a small part of the state’s budget.
“Right now, there is a lot of opposition to it,” Reilly said. “If the minority Republicans don’t vote as a block, then it will not pass. The closeness would be if the Republicans voted as a block in favor of it. Then I think the chances of it passing are greater.”
A 2008 study done by HR & A, commissioned by the UFC, showed that hosting an event in New York City would generate $11 million in economic impact, $5 million elsewhere in the state.
"It’s not just about the MMA revenue," Johnson said. "It’s about the concessions. It’s about the local businesses.”
This bill received a similar boost last June when it passed the Assembly's Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development by a 14-6 vote. But it stalled in the Senate during last summer's political party flip-flopping.
To read the bill, click on this State Senate link and enter S2165B as the bill number.