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MMA bill passes New York State Senate

UFC president Dana White speaks during a press

UFC president Dana White speaks during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State. (Jan. 13, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- Brace yourselves, MMA fans, for this summer's main event. It's a rematch between mixed martial arts and the New York State Assembly.

On Monday, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would legalize the sport of mixed martial arts by a vote of 42-18. The bill, S1707-A, now moves to the state Assembly, and was referred to the Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development Committee.

Long Island-based state Senators voting in favor of the bill were Lee M. Zeldin, Dean G. Skelos, John Flanagan, Jack M. Martins and Owen H. Johnson. Voting against it were Charles Fuschillo, Carl L. Marcellino, Kemp Hannon and Kenneth P. LaValle.

Should it pass the Assembly, it would move to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his signature. If and when Cuomo signs the bill into law, there would be a 90-day waiting period before an event could be held. That would give the New York State Athletic Commission time to properly prepare its officials for regulating the sport.

What's 90 more days when the fastest growing sport in the world over the past five years has been illegal in New York since 1997?

"I keep my fingers crossed this thing comes to fruition" said East Meadow's Matt Serra, a former UFC welterweight champion. "I'm going to be 37 in a week, and I don't got legs like Randy Couture. So thank God while I'm still in the game, there is a possibility I can fight in my home state, especially in a place like Madison Square Garden. It would be a dream come true. Fingers are crossed, toes are crossed. Please let it happen. Please let it happen."

But don't get too excited yet. This same bill passed the state Senate last June by a vote of 32-26 but never even reached the floor of the Assembly for a vote.

“It’s time to bring the fastest growing sport in the world to New York,” UFC owner and chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said. “With every passing month, our sport gets more and more popular around the country and in New York. We want to thank the State Senate, and we’re confident that when Assembly members take an objective look at our safety record, our popularity with their constituents, and the economic benefits and jobs we would bring to the State, they will take the same action and UFC fans will finally be able to see live UFC events in their home state.”

MMA is legal in 45 of the 48 states with athletic commissions. New York, Connecticut and Vermont have not legalized the sport. Alaska and Wyoming do not have commissions, and the UFC has expressed no interest in holding events in states with regulating bodies.

Assemb. Bob Reilly (D-Latham) is the most vocal opponent of legalizing the sport, citing its violent nature.

Zuffa LLC, the parent company of UFC and Strikeforce, cites its medical record -- no deaths in the cage -- and the economic impact. A study conducted by HR&A estimated that a UFC fight in New York City at Madison Square Garden would generate close to $11 million in economic activity. Statewide, MMA could generate $23 million a year if legalized.

The UFC has spent millions of dollars in an effort to get the sport legalized in New York. Recently, UFC president Dana White said that the biggest opponent to the sport has been the culinary union and its parent company, Unite Here. White said their dispute comes from the fact that Zuffa owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta own and operate the Station Casinos in Las Vegas with non-union employees. It's a bone of contention in Nevada, as 22 union members were arrested last February in a protest outside the Palace Station Casino.

New York State has produced its fair share of successful mixed martial artists. Serra is  the only professional fighter in the world to ever knock out Georges St-Pierre. Jon Jones (Endicott) is the current light heavyweight champion, and Rashad Evans (Niagara Falls) is a former champion in that division. Matt Hamill, who went to Rochester Institute of Technology, fights in the main event Saturday against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 130 in Las Vegas. The UFC's Chris Weidman (Baldwin) and Strikeforce's Gian Villante (Levittown) are promising fighters in the early stages of their careers. Of course, there are more out there in New York State.

“We’re so close to the time I’ll be able to fight in my home state of New York,” Jones said.  “Growing up in Rochester it’s always been my dream to compete in front of family and friends in the greatest state and biggest media market in the country."

UFC has increased its visibility in New York in the past few months. Last January, UFC held a press conference at Madison Square Garden to announce its intent to hold an event there once the sport is legalized. MSG Sports president Scott O'Neil was at the event to support the idea of the largest MMA promotion in the world coming to the Garden. When the UFC held an event at the Prudential Center in Newark last March, the press conference was at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

On Tuesday, May 24, a 24-hour MMA/boxing/wrestling channel called Fight Now, debuts on Cablevision's sports and entertainment tier in New York.

The Dolan family owns controlling interest in the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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