Friday Fights: New Horizons

The long and arduous battle that mixed martial arts has fought over the legal status of the sport in New York has finally come to a close. The historic decision did not come easy, and it creates an entirely new market and audience for the sport to continue to grow.

Friday Fights logo, created by Adam Milliken.

Last week, the sport of mixed martial arts received wonderful news when the state of New York finally passed a bill that would legalize MMA in the state. For years, the potential measure was blocked by a speaker who simply didn’t like it, or the sport for that matter. However, last Tuesday, the bill was passed by the state assembly in an overwhelming vote of 113 in favor to 25 opposed.

The long journey for the sport to earn its place in New York featured a number of obstacles.

New York Takes MMA Down

Back in February of 1997, the UFC had originally scheduled its 12th pay-per-view to be held in Buffalo, New York. However, just before the event could take place, the state struck a devastating blow.

Then-Governor George Pataki signed a bill into law banning the sport of mixed martial arts in the state.

Pataki reasoned his decision by calling the sport barbaric, stating that it was unnecessary and too dangerous to be allowed to take place.

This forced the UFC 12 event to move to Alabama, and the long road for MMA to regain its position in New York began.

The Sport Reforms

The main problem that New York had with the sport, and the problem many still have with it to this day, was it was much too violent. They cited that its participants were too often suffering injuries and there were not sufficient rules and regulations in place to protect the athletes.

Beginning in early 2000, the foundation for a much more regulated and safe sport began to form. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) voted unanimously to implement a set of rules and regulations for all events that would take place in the state. When it was sent to the capital, though, it was determined the CSAC had no right to try and regulate the sport.

It wasn’t a complete loss. In late 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) began allowing mixed martial arts events to take place within the state. The logic behind the move was so that the NJSACB could monitor these events closely and use that experience to develop a defined set of rules and regulations.

On April 3, 2001, the NJSACB held a meeting with nearly all promoters, regulators and other parties in attendance. At the meeting, a unified set of rules were agreed upon by all in attendance. This was a historic act because the sport finally had a uniform, well-defined and universally accepted set of rules to base themselves on.

The sport continued to grow safer when organizations and promoters became increasingly interested and concerned with the safety and well being of athletes.

Although many still consider the sport much too dangerous, there is no doubt it is much safer than it was in its early days as an unregulated sport.

The MMA Purgatory

The sport began garnering additional support not only in New York, but worldwide.

However, even after garnering enough support in New York, the journey wasn’t over.

For six consecutive years, the Senate passed a bill that would have legalized the sport, only for it to be shot down in the state assembly. This was largely due to the fact that people in positions of power (namely Governor and speaker) were against the sport personally.

The UFC then began spear-heading the effort to get the sport legalized in New York. In 2011, the UFC committed to hosting at least two events in New York per year, which would provide a significant boom to the economy of both the state and individual cities.

Later in 2011, UFC filed a lawsuit against the state of New York on the grounds that its ban on the sport violated First Amendment rights of equal protection and due process.

Then, in 2013, UFC announced a further code of conduct for its fighters with the specific goal of appeasing the issues the opponents of the sport had. In addition, current Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that he wasn’t against legalizing the sport.

This would eventually play a huge role.

The Fight Successfully Ends

As the sport continued to gain traction and support, it seemed as though it was when, not if, the sport would be legalized.

Back in January of 2015, Sheldon Silver, who was the speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested on corruption charges for abusing his position of power within the state. This development demonstrated further the lengths a few had gone to deny the sport its place.

This new lawsuit against former speaker Silver, along with a huge push from the MMA community and its organizations, were finally able to end the long journey.

The bill will now go to Governor Cuomo for his signature to make it officially a law, which is a formality because he is clearly on the pro-MMA side.

The Future of MMA in New York

Despite the fact that the sport is going to become legal in New York, and every major promotion stating their intent on putting on at least one event in the state by the end of 2016, there are still some who continue to oppose it.

Ellen Jaffee stated on the assembly floor, “Cage fighting, also known as MMA, has no place in a civilized society. It is a spectacle of violence. Except for those who stand to profit form this barbaric entertainment masquerading as a sport. Cage fighting causes great harm.”

Although there continues to be rigid opposition from a few sources, the majority has accepted MMA has a legitimate sport and have decided that if football, hockey and boxing are legal, then so should mixed martial arts.

Now that the battle for legalization has come to a close, the sport of MMA can focus on expanding its popularity and continuing to entertain a larger audience.

Featured image by Adam Milliken

Edited by David Bradford

+ posts

Adam is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Tennessee Journalist and a Junior at UT. Most of his free time is spent watching sports, listening to good music, and enjoying life. If you wish to contact him, you can email him at amillike@vols.utk.edu, follow him on Twitter, @AdamMilliken14, or find him at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/adam-milliken/109/a89/a32.