Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared to be further warming to the idea of legalizing professional mixed martial arts bouts in New York, as advocates and opponents took to the halls of the Capitol to make their case Tuesday.
Cuomo, during an appearance on public radio’s “The Capitol Pressroom,” said he looks at MMA as a potential economic benefit for the state. New York outlawed professional MMA — such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship — from taking place in the state in 1997.
“I think we need jobs. I think we need jobs. I think we need economic activity, especially in upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “I think this is a major endeavor that is televised, that is happening all over the country at this point. You’re not going to stop it from happening. And I’m interested in the economic potential for the state.”
The Democratic governor’s comments went a touch further than he did in March, when he said lifting the state’s ban should be “pursued” if the UFC can demonstrate a “multi-year commitment” to the state.
Meanwhile, both the UFC and opponents of MMA held court with the media Tuesday, with women’s and anti-violence groups speaking out against the sport — they challenged whether it is actually a sport — and called on the state Assembly to reject a bill to overturn the ban.
The fate of the bill rests with the Assembly. The Senate passed it again this year, and Cuomo seems inclined to support it.
“Cage fighting has no place in a civilized society,” Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, Rockland County, said in a statement. “Except for those who stand to profit from this barbaric entertainment masquerading as sport, cage fighting causes great harm.”
The UFC pushed back against the anti-MMA press conference, which featured the groups and three lawmakers expressing concern about the violent nature of the combat sport and out-of-the-cage incidents involving fighters that they said perpetuated a message of violence against women.
UFC officials produced a flier advertising a bus trip to Albany to lobby against the MMA bill. It was sponsored by UNITE HERE, an umbrella labor group that includes a Las Vegas culinary union. The union has had a longstanding feud with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, who majority owns the largest chain of non-unionized casinos in Vegas.
“I’ll hold up the record of our athletes frankly against the record of any other sport in this nation,” UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein said. “I’m a huge NFL fan; I think there was 60-plus arrests this season in the NFL. … The issues they’ve confronted this year pale in comparison to a few comments here and there, inappropriate as they may be, by some of our athletes in the UFC.”
The UFC also held a clinic at Albany’s Times Union Center in conjunction with a local wrestling club Tuesday evening.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)