BY DOMENICK RAFTER
Editor in Chief
After many years of close calls and lobbying, the state legislature finally approved mixed-martial arts, making New York the last state to legalize the controversial sport.
The sport was banned in the state in 1997, and as of today, New York remains the only state where it is illegal. In 2009, the main professional MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, sought to have the ban lifted. A bill legalizing the sport passed the State Senate eight times since, but repeatedly died in the State Assembly, where former Speaker Sheldon Silver led the opposition, despite many members of the Democratic caucus expressing support.
Leading the lobbying effort to oppose the sport’s legalization was the powerful Culinary Union, which is engaged in a labor dispute with UFC owners who operate a nonunion casino in Nevada. The union used the sport’s violent and often bloody fights to drum up opposition. Some Democrats, who remained opposed to the sport, sought to enact a separate bill that would ban the sport for two years, allowing the state health department to engage in a study on the sport’s brutality.
With Silver gone – he was convicted of corruption charges and expelled from the body last year –opposition evaporated. The bill passed overwhelmingly, 113-25, and now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. He has pledged to sign it.
Under the new law, the state Athletic Commission will be required to regulate MMA bouts, while promoters would be required to take out three separate types of insurance for fight cards. The state will also levy an 8.5 percent tax on ticket sales, as well as a 3.5 percent tax — up to $50,000 — on broadcast rights. Competitors, promoters and judges will also be required to purchase a license or permit from the state.
UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta is hoping to hold at least one event – perhaps in Madison Square Garden – before the end of year. Future events could take place at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn or in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse or Utica.
Two Queens members – Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside) – opposed the bill.
“We’ve finally delivered a knockout blow to Albany’s prohibition on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA),” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who backed the bill. “With today’s vote, millions of fans across the state will soon be able to enjoy MMA right in their own backyard. This will make MMA safer for fighters and fans alike, as well as bring millions of dollars to the state and boost economic activity for our local businesses.”