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MMA bill to be voted on by New York Assembly next week

Middleweight champion Chris Weidman of Baldwin defends his

Middleweight champion Chris Weidman of Baldwin defends his title against Brazilian Vitor Belfort at UFC 187 in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, May 23, 2015. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The New York State Assembly will vote on the possibility of legalizing mixed martial arts in the state next week, according to a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

Spokesman Michael Whyland did not specify which day next week the vote would go to the Assembly floor. Heastie said Tuesday evening that the decision to allow a vote means the house will approve the measure.

New York remains the only state with a ban on professional MMA, a law enacted in 1997.

“This is a big step forward for MMA, the athletes and the huge fan base the sport enjoys in New York, however, there are still more steps before New York finally crosses the hurdle to legalize professional MMA,” said Michael Britt, UFC vice president of global business development and government relations, in a statement. “We look forward to working with the chairs of the committees and all Assemblymembers to provide them with any information they may need as they address the bill to legalize and regulate MMA.”

The bill has passed through the State Senate for seven straight years, only to stall in the Assembly each time.

“I’m ecstatic to learn of the impending legalization of MMA in New York,” said Islip’s Chris Wade, a UFC lightweight fighter who trains at Long Island MMA. “New York is the greatest city in the world and has some of the world’s most passionate MMA fans. I am so happy for the other professional fighters and I to now have the proper backing of the most powerful city in the world. Things are going to change. NY is coming. I can’t wait for MSG.”

Three committees must vote in favor of the bill before it reaches the Assembly floor for a full vote. It starts with Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, then Codes, then Ways and Means.

The bill needs a simple majority — 76 votes — in the Assembly to pass. The majority Democratic conference typically doesn’t move a bill to the floor without having the necessary votes on its own to pass the bill. It is believed that there are approximately 80 Democrats in favor of legalizing the sport. The Assembly bill also has 73 sponsors across party lines attached to it.

“The second they pass it, I am calling the UFC and begging to be put on the first card,” said Lindenhurst’s Ryan LaFlare, a UFC welterweight fighter who also co-owns Long Island MMA in Farmingdale and has helped lobby for the bill in past years.

Should the bill pass the Assembly floor, it would then go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office for his signature. The governor included MMA revenue in executive budget proposal earlier this year, his most overt act of support for the bill.

The New York State Athletic Commission then will have 120 days to adopt guidelines and regulations for use as the sanctioning body.

“The MMA community has been waiting for this for so long,” said Al Iaquinta, a UFC fighter from Wantagh who trains at Serra-Longo, in a text message. “It seems like it is finally on its way to really happening so I am just keeping my fingers crossed.”

UFC has a date reserved at Madison Square Garden in November to host its first fight card in New York. UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta has promised four fight cards per year across New York State in each of the first three years once the sport became legal and sanctioned.

“Going to be a career highlight that I’ve been waiting for since the first the first time I ever put a pair of gloves on,” said Gian Villante, a UFC light heavyweight fighter from Levittown who trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.

Aljamain Sterling, like Villante and the dozens of other pro MMA fighters from Long Island and New York, has had to travel for every one of his fights. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts. And those are just the ones easily reachable by car.

“I’m ecstatic to see that all passionate MMA athletes may finally get the opportunity to perform in front of our family and friends, in our home state,” said Sterling, a UFC bantamweight and Serra-Longo fighter from Uniondale. “This is something I’ve been waiting for since I’ve been an amateur MMA fighter.”

“We want to thank Speaker Heastie and of course we also need to thank Majority Leader Morelle, who has worked tirelessly to educate his colleagues and build support on both sides of the aisle, but particularly among Assembly Democrats,” “Our thanks, as well, go to those legislators in both houses and both parties who have supported this effort over the years.”

Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-South Huntington) is one of the 73 sponsors on the bill.

“We see different MMA fighters, like Chris Weidman, who’s from Dix Hills where I represent,” said Lupinacci, who is on the Assembly’s tourism committee. “You see these people fighting in other states, in other venues, it’s about time we bring these New York fighters back to fight in New York.”

With Yancey Roy

New York Sports