Mixed martial arts has fought its way into New York. On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, the New York State Assembly passed legislation legalizing mixed martial arts as a professional sport in New York. Its almost 30-year ban is now over.
New York was the last North American state or province in legalizing the sport. Despite the Republican-controlled Senate support of the sport in passing legislation in 2014 to make MMA legal, the Democrat-controlled Assembly of the legislature was always resistant. The resistance of the larger body might be attributed to the control exerted by the former Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver. He was forced to resign after a federal corruption conviction late in 2015. The new leader of the Democrat-controlled house, Carl Heastie, voiced his support of the sport. The vote was 113-25 and had 73 co-sponsors. Only 76 votes are needed to pass the bill. The measure was identical to one passed earlier in the Senate and now requires the signature of the governor. “I do support mixed martial arts because it’s also an economic generator,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
MMA is big business and fighting its way into New York will make it bigger. It is estimated that for the state, there would be a revenue of 3 percent of gross receipts broadcast rights, not to exceed $50,000, and 8.5 percent from gross ticket receipts, as well as licensing fees. Fortune magazine reported that in its last event, The Ultimate Fighting Championship league’s UFC 196, took in $8.1 million in receipts at the gate alone, with an attendance of around 14,700.
Now New York has opened its arenas to the sport. UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta had planned that UFC would hold at least four annual events in New York after legalization of the sport, and planned to hold its first New York event this year at Madison Square Garden. “We also look forward to scheduling events in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and Brooklyn,” said Fertitta in a statement. “We are excited.” The UFC is now planning on putting on at least four events per year for the next three years, in multiple cities in the state.
According to the website SportsPool, there are numerous MMA organizations in the United States alone. In addition to the UFC, they include WEC, Strikeforce, Bellator Fighting Championships, Art of War (US) , RITC, Adrenaline MMA, Ohio Xtreme Fighting, as well as an additional 13 leagues.
MMA is a violent sport. Blood may be shed. And it is both a sport of men and women. There are no gloves such as in boxing, but it is questionable whether boxing is any less violent. The combatants are permitted to strike one another and the wrestle with each other, although not in the same sense as in the sport of wrestling. It has been reported that through the mixing of the arts, kickboxers also became grapplers and that wrestlers learned how to box. David Plotz, discussing the sport in a 1999 article in The Slate wrote that “The karate experts learned to stay home.”
The history of mixed martial arts is a long one because of its combination of skills and styles, but much of it is rooted in Brazilian and Japanese combat. The Gracie family seems to be the nucleus around which the sport of MMA itself developed. Rorion Gracie moved to the United States in the early 1980’s and, together with other family members, promoted the “Gracie Challenge”. They would take on all comers. The winner over a Gracie combatant would be given a purse of $100,000.
Along with others, the Gracies developed the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was billed as a “no rule” event and despite interest, it came to be outlawed, and cable carriers also stopped their programming. UFC was bought out, rules for fighting were instituted, and licensing was sought and obtained in Nevada. And then we come to today, where mixed martial arts has fought its way into the last holdout jurisdiction in North America.
By Bob Reinhard
New York State Assembly: Bill A02604
Slate: Fight Clubbed
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Fortune: New York Has Finally Legalized Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed Martial Arts: Fertitta issues statement on MMA legalization in NY
Ockickboxing: History of MMA
Image Courtesy of Eric Langley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License