by FIGHT! contributor Chris Vaccaro
When members of the New York State Senate took a coup and stalled legislative processing in June, it became clear the fight to legalize mixed martial arts in New York would be put on hold for at least another six months.
The bill passed 14-6 in the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Tourism, Arts and Sports Development on June 3, but fighters and fans will have to wait until January 2010 when politicians reconvene for another legislative session and the bill to legalize MMA picks up again in the Committee on Ways and Means.
“It’s gong to happen,” says Marc Ratner, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “This coup in the senate could delay us. Whether it happens this session or not, it’s going to happen. To me, [having MMA in New York] is the cherry on top of the dessert. New York is the media capital of the world. It has so much going on and validates everything.”
In order for the bill to become law in New York, it has to pass through the Committee on Ways and Means in the New York State Assembly, then pass in the New York State Senate and be signed by the Governor.
Supported by New York State Assemblymen Jonathan Bing (D-New York) and Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket), the bill would amend a previous law in New York, making it acceptable to set up protocols for combative sports and authorizing mixed martial arts events.
According to the bill’s language on the New York State Assembly’s website, the purpose is “to ensure that the New York State Athletic Commission regularly updates the list of single-discipline martial arts organizations that are approved by the commission to sanction martial arts matches or exhibitions; and to allow professional mixed martial arts to be permitted in this state and set forth the jurisdiction of the commission in regulating professional mixed martial arts promotion, participants, bouts, and exhibitions.”
There is also a statute that imposes an 8.5% tax on receipts of ticket sales with no cap as well as a 3% tax on broadcasting rights with a $50,000 cap. MMA regulation will become effective 120 days after it officially becomes a law and will be brought up for review after a 3-year run.
Ratner, who has seen his fair share of challenges as former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, along with a team of legal people, is tasked with educating the old-school politicians who still associate the UFC with no-holds-barred free for alls.
“It’s a sport, not a spectacle, not a freak show like the way it once was,” says UFC fighter and Long Island native Matt Serra. “We’re still cleaning up the mess that was made when MMA burst onto the scene.”
After getting booed by all of Quebec during his UFC 83 fight with Georges St-Pierre, Serra says it would “literally be a dream” to fight at Madison Square Garden or even Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, just down the road from his East Meadow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school on Hempstead Turnpike. “We’re almost there, and we’re super excited about it,” he says.
The primary opposition to the bill is New York State Assemblyman Bob Reilly (D-Latham).
“We have a violent society today,” Reilly says. “We’re trying to stop domestic violence, bullying in schools, gangs in the city. I don’t think it’s good for society as a whole.”
Reilly went on to discuss the economic hardships of New York, which has cut its Empire State Games, a segment of inter-state competition for amateur athletes of various sports.
“Meanwhile, we’re going to bring in ultimate fighting,” he says.
Reilly is uneasy with the UFC’s parent company Zuffa, LLC, being tied to anything in New York. The company is owned primarily by the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank Jr., who own Station Casinos as well as holding a large stake in the nutritional supplement company Xyience, both of which are carrying a great deal of debt.
Regardless of Reilly’s feelings on the subject, in a down economy, money talks louder than usual.
“I’m a fan of new sources of revenue,” Bing says. “New York is the leader of the country when it comes to tourism and entertainment, and it really doesn’t make any sense that 40 other states have it authorized.”
For now, MMA enthusiasts can only hope that New York’s legislators keep them in mind when making New Year’s resolutions.