Advocates of mixed-martial arts said today they are ready to take another swing at getting the sport legalized in New York.
New York is the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow MMA contests, and the Democratic-led Assembly continues to show opposition to it. The measure has passed four times in the Senate, which is partially controlled by Republicans.
“Part of the challenge, I think, is to get legislators who may have an opinion, but their opinion is formed or the context for their opinion is 15 years old” to change their minds,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, the bill’s primary sponsor,
“Once we are able to do that, we’ll continue to gain converts,” Morelle said.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is suing New York to overturn its ban, and a federal judge last October ruled that the lawsuit could proceed if the world’s largest MMA promoter can prove the state’s ban is unconstitutionally vague.
MMA fighters and promoters were at the Capitol today to press for legislation, rather than a court remedy. They said the sport has evolved and having it regulated by the state would ensure safety precautions are being followed.
Proponents estimated that New York would gain about $135 million a year in additional revenue from fights at major venues, such as upstate arenas and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
“I’m trying to get people to have a better understanding of the sport. It has evolved a lot,” said Uriah Hall, a UFC fighter who grew up in New York City.
New York first banned mixed-martial arts in 1997.
The legalization appeared to be close to a vote in the Assembly last year, but women lawmakers criticized MMA as sexist and was beaten back under the cloud of a series of sexual harassment cases of female aides in the chamber. Also, there has been pressure from New York unions to reject the measure because UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta has been in a labor dispute with unions at his Las Vegas casinos.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, would again consider the bill this year, a spokesman said. Silver hasn’t backed the measure, and he’s been criticized for his handling of the sexual-harassment cases last year.
“There has not been sufficient support in the past. We’ll discuss it with our members at some point and see if there is any change,” said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland.