Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tune in to 88.7FM WRHU for the morning show on 12/28/11!

Hi all, please tune it to WRHU 88.7FM (Long Island, NY) for the Morning Show on Wednesday, December 28 from 7-9am.  I will be on the show discussing the NY MMA situation and what we face in 2012. The show airs live from 7-9am. WRHU is the official station of the NY Islanders and broadcasts live out of Hofstra University in Long Island, NY (Where I went to grad school!).


Thanks for all the support! Let's get MMA in NY in 2012!

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY

Monday, December 26, 2011

Support NY MMA for New Year!

Ok folks, what are you doing on New Year's Day when you are sitting home after a weekend of partying or watching UFC on Friday or Fight For Japan on Saturday?

On Sunday, you can be watching the acclaimed documentary "New York Mixed Martial Arts" on iPPV with Go Fight Live! That's right cap off a weekend of great MMA by supporting NY in our fight for legal MMA! Check out the film that features Josh Barnett, Gesias Calvacante, Fedor Emilianenko, Steve Kardian, Steven Katz, Tara LaRosa, New York Assemblyman Dean Murray, Nestor Marte, New York City Councilman Joel Rivera, Bas Rutten, Oleg Savitsky, Frank Shamrock, Mike Straka, Dana White, and stars CFFC fighter Bradley Desir, Stephen Koepfer, Tyga Maclin, Eddie Goldman, Paula Romero, and Justin Klein.

Mike Tucker, Director of Gunner Palace and Fightville says:
"Anyone who cares about the future of MMA in New York State needs to watch this eye-opening film to discover who and what is keeping MMA out of Madison Square Garden. Beyond the politics, however, this is a moving portrait of athletes in exile - men and women who are forbidden to engage in the sport they love in their own city."

Visit http://www.nymmafilm.com/ and click the watch on-line link! Spend a hour of the first day in 2012 supporting NY MMA!

Monday, December 19, 2011

UPDATE: New York has yet to respond to Zuffa MMA lawsuit.

On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, attorneys representing Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC) filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. seeking, among other things, a declaration that New York’s ban on live Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. Attorneys representing New York State have yet to file their answer to Zuffa's complaint.

According to MMA Payout:

Defense counsel for New York has made its appearance and were granted extra time to file its answer to the Zuffa’s lawsuit. The court will allow attorneys for the New York Attorney General and the New York County District Attorney until January 11, 2012 to respond.
I would also suggest taking some time to listen to this interview with Luke Thomas of SB Nation, Barry Friedman and Jamie Levitt (who head up Zuffa's legal team) as they discuss the details of the suit.
I highly suggest everyone take the time to read the full complaint. More than the voice of an exiled NY MMA community, it is a critical educational piece for non-fans.  Yes, it is 106 pages (excluding exhibits), but it will be worth it.  If you need some legal clarifications, I urge you to read Jim Genia’s breakdown of the complaint.  For some in depth discussion of the suit, listen to this episode of the Darce Side Radio where Jim Genia and Peter Lampasona of US Combat Sports sit in live to discuss the suit and what it means for NY.

Related NYMMANOW post: UFC spearheaded lawsuit: Can a Zuffa change its spots for the benefit of New York MMA?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanks for the love! MMA Business Magazine

When I was out at Fight Summit in Vegas last week to screen "New York Mixed Martial Arts", I got a subscrition to MMA Business Magazine. As I am brousing through some back issues, I find this article in the June 2011 issue! Thanks for the support guys. It is great to know the Coalition is reaching so many people. We were so close in 2011. 2012 has got to be our year!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

UFC spearheaded lawsuit: Can a Zuffa change its spots for the benefit of New York MMA?

On Tuesday, November 15, attorneys representing Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC) filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. seeking, among other things, a declaration that New York’s ban on live Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.  In the two days that have passed since this bombshell announcement the media, blogosphere, and MMA community has been pontificating about what this means for us here in NY, but more on that later.  First, a small bit of history…
Those who have followed this blog over the past year will certainly have noticed that I, and other members of the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York, have often been very critical of Zuffa with regard to their approach to the problem of New York’s ban on Live MMA. One point of criticism has been Zuffa’s apparent unwillingness to work together with the local grass roots and other members of the MMA community to tackle the problem of NY’s MMA ban. Historically, Zuffa has appeared insular in their actions here in NY.
Since New York criminalized live MMA in 1997, there have been a myriad of attempts to overturn the ban with no result.  Several years ago Zuffa began spending countless dollars on lobby efforts to no avail.  During the past year the fight here in NY gathered critical mass with the coming together of many individuals who had been notable in the local fight for MMA in NY. The result was the founding of this Coalition and all the public (and behind the scenes) efforts we have made including the release of our acclaimed documentary New York Mixed Martial Arts (produced by myself and directed by Coalition member Kahleem Poole-Tejada).  Still, in spite of majority support in Albany (in the Senate and Assembly), a local media who was finally talking about the issue in earnest, public rallies, screenings of the film across the state, lobby campaigns in Albany, TV and radio appearances, public panels, round table meetings, and a now thriving and active grass roots movement, the end of the 2011 legislative calendar still left us without legal live MMA.
Baffled, we were all left wondering what to do next.  Why did we fail again?  Was it the proxy war Zuffa is waging with Unite Here and the Culinary Unions here in NY?  Was it the apathetic and ignorant leadership in the State legislature?  Was it good old boy politics in Albany?  Was it the simple fact that MMA is just a blip on the radar of the NY’s financial and legislative problems?  Was it all of the above? Whatever the reason, it was clear another approach was needed.  Several of us in the Coalition had discussed the possibility of a lawsuit of some kind to force the issue, but we did not have the means to do so.  We were resigned to keeping the issue alive and waiting for the 2012 legislative calendar.
Then, in early September I was contacted by Barry Friedman, a constitutional lawyer and professor from New York University.  He explained that he was representing Zuffa and wanted to meet with myself, Justin Klein (The Fight Lawyer), and Kahleem – Poole Tejada (the Director of our documentary).  Friedman and his legal team were interested in a setting up a private screening of New York Mixed Martial Arts.  I believe I can safely say we were all skeptical and cautious, but we obliged.
At the meeting we watched the film and sat for several hours discussing the ins and outs of the NY MMA community, the battle for MMA in NY, and the rationale behind Zuffa’s impending lawsuit.  Friedman and his team were unexpectedly approachable.  What struck me most was their willingness to admit they needed education regarding the sport as a whole and help negotiating the NY MMA community waters.  Was this really Zuffa we were meeting with?  I, for one, had not felt this level of cooperation during past attempts to work with Zuffa’s representatives here in NY.  We all left the meeting with knowledge of the impending lawsuit (and promises to keep it under wraps) and a commitment to speak again.  
Over the following months I had many discussions with Mr. Friedman.  He graciously entrusted me with early copies of the complaint and asked for honest feedback.  Still skeptical, but fully aware that the suit would go on with or without my assistance, I offered my help.  I did (and still do) believe that if we were ever to get anywhere in NY, we needed an intervention such as this one; a radical change in approach.  Many in the local MMA community would not have favored my offering assistance, believing that Zuffa could not be trusted.  I too had worries that my suggestions would fall on deaf ears.  But, if the suit was to go on I wanted it to be the best and most accurate complaint possible.  
Friedman and I had many subsequent conversations regarding NY MMA history, local concerns with Zuffa’s past behaviors in NY, the need for unity in this suit, possible plaintiffs, the life of local fighters, the dark ages of martial arts under previous NY Athletic Commission leadership, and many other topics.  Additionally, he met with many of our Coalition members and other members of the local MMA community.  Some of whom are listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
On Monday, November 15th I received a call from Mr. Friedman. He gave me a heads up that the suit would be filed the next morning.  I was nervous.  There were significant risks involved for us here in NY.  I had yet to see the final version of the complaint to be filed.  How had my criticism been received?  Were my suggestions taken into account?  Would I end up regretting my cooperation?  Would my friends who became involved in the suit based on my recommendation regret getting involved?  This was Zuffa after all.
On Tuesday morning I got a copy of the final complaint (all 106 pages of it). As I read through it I began to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Zuffa via Friedman and his team had done its homework, and in so doing have done right by the NY MMA community.  The document presented a clear cut account of the sport as a whole. This was not a UFC propaganda piece.  It truly reflected the diversity and passion that is NY MMA.  Plaintiffs included professional fighters, local amateur fighters, bloggers, fans, coaches, and gym owners.  The content of the complaint offers a clear account of the sport as a whole, its history and growth, its safety record, its financial importance, and most importantly its virtues.  In a rare moment for Zuffa, the complaint discusses the impact of Bellator, M-1 Global and many other smaller MMA promotions.  And most importantly, the complaint clearly makes the point that it is the falsely interpreted message of MMA that has perpetuated New York’s ban.   
After reading the final complaint I contacted Mr. Friedman to thank him for taking the local perspective into account.  According to Friedman, “The complaint in this case would not have looked as it did without the active involvement with many members of the NY MMA community” and that discussions with the local community “brought the New York grass roots experience to the fore.”  When asked about New York Mixed Martial Arts documentary, Friedman replied, “It taught us a lot about how the Ban affected people, and it also led us to some of our plaintiffs.  It is a great film, you should be very proud of it.”
Friedman went on to explain:

“Obviously the UFC is an important plaintiff in this case, but we wanted it to be about the fighters and fans, trainers, gym owners, the many people and perspectives that are affected by NY's senseless ban on MMA.  If one reads our (long) complaint, the center of it is the story of all these people.  We reached out to leaders in that community who had been at the forefront of the legalization effort, to help us locate the right plaintiffs and also to understand how the Ban affected countless New Yorkers.  And Steve, you deserve a special shout out for all the help you rendered; also Justin Klein over at Fight Lawyer.”
So where does this lawsuit leave us?  It is certainly not a cure all.  There are risks involved as this suit is no subtle tactic.  Legislators typically dislike when attempts are made to circumvent them.  Passage or failure of this suit aside, we risk angering the opposition.  In the event the suit is successful and the ban is repealed, we will still need to go through Albany for passage of legislation regarding MMA regulation in NY.  And in so doing, we will have to deal with a more angry and entrenched opposition.  However, it is my belief that we already have majority support in Albany and that many of our legislators are equally frustrated with the continued opposition by Assemblyman Bob Reilly, blockage of legislation by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and their cronies.  If Albany is forced to regulate MMA, I believe we may already have our ducks in a row upstate.
I highly suggest everyone take the time to read the full complaint. More than the voice of an exiled NY MMA community, it is a critical educational piece for non-fans.  Yes, it is 106 pages, but it will be worth it.  If you need some legal clarifications, I urge you to read Jim Genia’s breakdown of the complaint.  For some in depth discussion of the suit, listen to this episode of the Darce Side Radio where Jim Genia and Peter Lampasona of US Combat Sports sit in live to discuss the suit and what it means for NY.
So, did Zuffa change its spots for the benefit of NY MMA?  In this case they did. A tip of the hat goes to Zuffa, Barry Friedman, and his whole legal team.  Go get them!

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Petition Washington for NY MMA! Sign today!

Thanks to the guys at Klutch Wear for getting this going!

The White house has started a program where if you can get 25K signatures in 30 days they have to respond to the petition.  If we can get this brought up in the White house maybe they will see what a disservice these NY politicians are doing for us regarding MMA's live ban.

Sign the petition here! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Darce Side Radio covers "Fightville", Ariel Helwani, and "Raw Combat"

Darce Side Radio covers the NYC premier of the fantastic new MMA documentary "Fightville" at the NYC DOCS Film Festival. This film will go great lengths towards educating new fans as to what MMA is and is not. It was wonderful, as was the Director Michael Tucker who arranged for myself and several others from the NY MMA community to attend the film's screening. Mr. Tucker came to know about MMA while working on a previous film and became an instant fan! I highly recommend the film!!

After the film was a so called "panel" on New York MMA with MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani. Unfortunately, the "panel" was more of a UFC anti-union political attack ad by Helwani than an actual objective and honest discussion of the situation here in New York. What boiled my blood most was his answer to an audience member's question as to what NY fans are doing about the ban on MMA. Helwani's answer was insulting: "They just talk about it", suggesting that we have not been proactive in the fight. Thanks for nothing Ariel.

Listen to the entire panel and subsequent Q&A on this episode of the Darce Side (don't be surprised if you don't hear any New York press or Coalition members during the Q&A...we were avoided like the plague and never called on).

Also on the show is Jim Genia (who was also present at the Fightville screening), author of "Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts" which covers nearly 20 years of NY MMA history, offers a window inside the NY MMA community, and the effects of NY State's ban on live MMA.

Lots of NY MMA news and issues from past to present. Take a listen:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All has not been quiet...a NY MMA fall review

As summer has rolled into winter and we approach a new 2012 legislative session in Albany, it is time to start gearing up for another round for the fight for live MMA in New York State. In 2011 we gained a lot of ground and showed NY just how rediculous the ban on live MMA is.

While the topic may not seem to be as hot as it was earlier this year, have no doubt that wheels are turning behind the scenes here in New York. Some very exciting projects are in the works. Keep your eye on the presses folks.

But in the meantime, get up to speed with some of the press and news from the past several months:

Coming November 6th - The acclaimed documentary "Fightville" will screen at the DOC NYC Film Festival and will be followed by a panel discussion on New York's live MMA ban. This is a MUST SEE! Fightville has won numerous awards and will help keep the discussion alive about MMA here in NY!

November 1st - New York MMA fighter Wally MacDonald is interviewed regarding the NY live MMA ban and how it has affected his career.

November 1st - US Combat Sports explores the poorly constructed Siena Poll that "demonstrates" New Yorkers' "opposition" to legal MMA.

October 29th - Full Contact Fighter covers the Cullinary Union's effort to have FOX drop the UFC from its line-up.

October 21st - The acclaimed documentary "New York Mixed Martial Arts" (co-produced by our coalition) premiered as the first iPPV/on-demand film on Go Fight Live.

October 19th - Filmmaker and playright David Mamet authors an op-ed for the NY Post, noting that the ban on live MMA in New York is a violation of the Constitution's 1st Ammendment (freedom of expression).

October 12th - USA Today covers the Cullinary Union's expansion of its anti-UFC campaign.

October 11th - SB Nation discusses the Cullinary Union relationship with the UFC, the FTC investigation of Zuffa, LLC, and their impact on NY MMA.

October 2nd - Las Vegas Review Journal explores the UFC/Cuillinary Union hype.

October 1st - Another pooly constructed Siena Poll massages the truth about New Yorkers' "opposition" to mixed martial arts.

September 12th - Kalheem Poole Tejada (director the the NY MMA documentary) and Matthew Kaplowitz (the Fight Nerd) sit in with Mauro Renallo on the MMA Show to discuss MMA in NY and their latest film project.

September 6th - The Darce Side Radio hosts veteran NY MMA reporter, Peter Lampasona, to discuss his first MMA bout and the state of MMA in New York.

Friday, October 14, 2011

NY MMA Documentary available iPPV and on-demand starting October 21st!

We are very pleased to announce that EVERYONE will be able to see New York Mixed Martial Arts via iPPV. Our film will make history as the first feature film to be added to Go Fight Live's internet pay-per-view and on-demand line-up. We will premier on www.gfl.tv on Friday, October 21st at 9pm EST. The film will be available on demand after that. Spread the word and show the world how crazy it is that MMA is illegal in NY!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another poorly constructed Siena Polls targets MMA in New York

Some of you may recall my commentary regarding a Siena Poll taken last March regarding New Yorkers attitudes towards sports; one of which was Mixed Martial Arts. Well, the good folks at Siena are at it again.

In a new poll released this week the Siena Research Institute found that support for legalized MMA in New York was holding steady at 39% in favor as they found last March. However, the poll also notes an increase in opposition from 41% to 48%. At face value, this may seem troubling. However, like Siena's previous poll, it is poorly crafted research.  The poll does not target MMA specifically, but sneakily tucks a single question on topic of MMA legalization into a portion of the poll primarily concerned with the dangers of legalized gambling in New York. Additionally, MMA is not given the same weight as other sports in the general sporting questions regarding favorite athlete, favorite sport, etc. In fact MMA is not even included as an answer option.

Furthermore, like Siena's poll last March, the wording on the MMA specific question reads:
Mixed Martial Arts, known by some as cage fighting or ultimate fighting. Supporters say it should be legal in the State of New York. Mixed martial arts or MMA is already legal in many states and if legal here in New York would generate fan interest, direct revenues and would be an engine of economic development. Opponents say MMA is dangerous, even barbaric and we should not allow such a violent sport to be practiced here in New York. Do you side with the supporters of MMA or with the opponents?
Unfortunately, the good people at Siena have not bothered to update their question or methods. Inasmuch, my criticism remains the same as it was last March. In the case of this study, as is often the case, the poll question suggests that MMA is dangerous, barbaric, and violent. It refers to our sport as "cage fighting" and "ultimate fighting," which conjure much more violent images of our sport (not to mention that these are not what our sport is called). The only counter argument offered is essentially that the sport is legal in "many" other states (not MOST other states as is the case) and could stand to make New York State some money. Siena is asking people to decide between violence and money. There is no suggestion that MMA is, in fact, very safe; much safer than many other popular sports noted in the poll. In my opinion, this poll was destined to show lack of support for MMA in New York.

Peter Lampasona of US Combat Sports points out  problems with this study in the way Siena tucked the topic of MMA legalization in with the gambling questions:

Fully half of the questions on the survey are actually about if sports gambling should be legal in New York. MMA only comes up once. After a full page of statements asking if casino gambling is worth the money or damaging to the community, there is a sudden track jump to [MMA].

In the survey question, the positives of MMA have nothing to do with what actually happens training or competing. All support is related to money. Yet the cons are all directed at what actually is happening in the cage, implying that MMA as a pursuit for the athletes has no virtue.
Placed neatly after the questions about casino gambling, it's clear that the survey is asking only one question: “Would you rather make money or help your community?” Like gambling, the viewing of MMA in this survey is clearly depicted as a vice.
Once again, Siena has added feul to the fire of illogical resistance to the professional sport of MMA in the state of New York.

Read the poll result summary here

Read the complete data summary here 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The MMA Show with Mauro Renallo

Coalition members Kahleem Poole-Tejada and Matthew Kaplowitz sit in with Mauro to discuss the documentaries "A Fighting Spirit" and "New York Mixed Martial Arts" as well as the state of MMA in New York.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

'A Fighting Spirit' looks at the NY MMA community in the wake of 9-11

Courtsey of The Fight Nerd:

This Sunday marks the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The way America looked at itself was altered immensely on that date, and a decade later the world is a very different place. Memories of panic and uncertainty are still present, but the urge to keep moving forward is even stronger.

In remembrance of this anniversary, MMA news & editorial website, TheFightNerd.com, has released an exclusive short-film that commemorates this event alongside the New York MMA community. "A Fighting Spirit" is a video memoir that interviews members of the NY martial arts community and discusses where they were when the Towers collapsed, how they have coped, and how New York and America have grown stronger.

Directed by Kahleem Poole-Tejada (director of the full-length documentary "New York MMA," which will be shown at this year's Fight Summit in Las Vegas in December) and produced by Matthew Kaplowitz (Editor-in-Chief of http://www.thefightnerd.com/) in association with Ranger Up, the film takes viewers around a tour of downtown Manhattan and provides a glimpse inside several of New York City's top MMA gyms.

It features many NY-based fighters, such as Renzo Gracie, Chris Weidman, Pete "Drago" Sell, and Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, as well as Stephen Koepfer of "NY Combat Sambo", Mark Yehia of "Elite Plus MMA," Rob Constance of "The Renzo Gracie Academy," and Emilio Novoa, President of ADCC North America. Also appearing is UFC middleweight fighter Jorge Rivera, as well as Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy, who adds the voices of members of the U.S. Armed Forces to this emotional piece.

Please feel free to repost the link to this site or embed this film on your sites and/or social media pages. If you would like to speak with the producer for an interview or quotes, please email Matt@thefightnerd.com. Thank you very much for your support!

Matthew Kaplowitz
Editor in Chief of TheFightNerd.com

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Evidence: Culinary Workers Union Local 226 battling Zuffa, LLC with Regard to MMA

Good friend to the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York, the Fight Nerd, broke this story a few days ago.

There has been significant debate this year reagrding Zuffa's ongoing battle with Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with regard to the Las Vegas based non-union Station Casino chain owned by majority UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. While there has been little concrete evidence, the rumor mill has been churning out stories that the Culinary Workers Union was, in fact, blocking the passage of MMA legislation in New York.*

Outside of rumor, the only concrete piece of evidence that any union was invested enough to battle MMA here in New York as a means of sticking it to Zuffa & the Fertittas, was this Senate wide memo from earlier this year, which held little sway; as we now know that MMA legislation passed the Senate with overwhelming support.

Still, Zuffa continued to push the story that the Culinary Workers Union was fighting MMA in New York; as a means of fighting their enemies, the Fetittas, on another unrelated front.  Similarly, rumors have been spreading like wildfire across the internet that there was a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of Zuffa underway. These two rumors, the Cullinary Workers Union blockage in New York and the FTC investigation, had never been formally associated. They still have not, but it now seems more probable.  On August 31st, the Fight Nerd was contacted by...

...the Culinary Workers Union, with a letter addressed to Richard Feinstein, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition. In response to concerns raised by professional athletes, the CWU are encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate possible anti-competitive practices in professional mixed martial arts.

Here is a copy of said letter:

I have heard whispers from legislators who once swore steadfast that the unions were no issue in Albany; now suggesting it could be a problem. Quiet rumblings are suggesting that Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker and union supporter, is being influenced in this regard (he is the one blocking the legislation). This would seem contrary to the thoughts of Assembly Labor Committee Chair, Keith L. T. Wright, who is a strong supporter on MMA and claimed earlier this year that he had no knowledge of any union blockage in Albany.**

The bottom line is that the Culinary Workers Union is fighting Zuffa in Vegas and in general (the merits of their complaints are worthy of an editorial all their own). Are they or will they continue to be influential here in New York? Only time will tell. New York's political waters run deep and murky. But, one thing is for sure: regardless of whether the union is actively fighting MMA here in New York as a means to attack their enemies on another front, the negative press Zuffa is gaining from it's non-MMA activities is not good for MMA here in our state. It is tarnishing our sport in the eyes of the sport's opposition.

We supporters of MMA need to remind our legislators that the sport is bigger than Zuffa and the UFC. While there may be two UFC's a year in New York if MMA is legalized, the rest of the year will be left to the community at large (the majority) including many, many other promoters and events. The UFC is certainly the biggest and most vocal game in town, but we need to remind people that they are just a small part of the MMA community at large.

Let Governor Cuomo know you want MMA!

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York

*See my prior editorials on the subject:

**See "Wright is Right"

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Review. Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts

By Jim Genia
Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Company
Release Date: October 25, 2011

Review by Stephen Koepfer
Head Coach, New York Combat Sambo
Founder, Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York
On November 11th, 1993 the martial arts world was still a landscape of mythological style vs. style debate; what style was best, the most deadly, or the most capable of allowing one to defend against multiple crazed attackers hiding in urban alleyways.  Regardless of such pontification however, the reality was that most chose their style or school based on location; how close was the training hall to my home or office.  Sure maybe Ninjitsu was better that Shotokan Karate, but the Shotokan dojo is only 10 minutes from my house.  We really did not know any better.  We took the word of the great masters who ran our local dojos.  By the time 1993 came along I was a proud Tae Kwon Do black belt, and I thought I was a badass.
On November 12th everything changed.  I was 25 years old.  My buddies and I gathered at John’s house to watch a new Pay-Per-View event called the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). According to advertising, it would be what we had all dreamed of. This was not going to be an insular Tae Kwon Do or NASKA Sport Karate tournament; the glorified games of tag we were used to. The UFC was touted to be a No Holds Barred (NHB) all out battle to see once and for all what style was at the top of the martial art food chain.  There would be no weight classes, foam dipped gloves or booties. No face protectors or chest covers. With the exception of a few gentlemanly rules, there were no technical restrictions.
By the morning of November 13th, martial artists across America were struggling to accommodate the shocking reality that most of what they had been training held very little practical application whatsoever.  Like smelling salt abruptly waking an unconscious man, the UFC reminded us that we had divorced the martial from martial arts. Some folks kept drinking the Cool Aid, convinced that their grandmaster really knew all the deadly secrets and could defeat those TV fighters if given a chance.  Others, myself included, made a radical shift in how we viewed martial arts, training, and fighting.  Raw Combat is our story.
Within two years I had left my Tae Kwon Do club to train San Shou (a Chinese form of full contact kickboxing) and entry level grappling.  Four years later I fought in my first “mixed martial arts” bout (the term MMA did not exist yet).  I lost to a kid fresh out of Riker’s Island, but I was bitten by the fight bug.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  By 1997, this type of combat sport had been criminalized in New York and many other states.  Still, my peers and I kept training. We fought kickboxing bouts, competed in the new and evolving grappling scene, and tried to become the best fighters we could.  By 1999, I had been the corner man for several amateur fighters; I found a new coach (a Russian expat who trained me in Sambo); and by 2003 I opened my own club and started to train amateur and professional fighters myself.
Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts, written by veteran journalist and New Yorker Jim Genia is much more than the book’s title suggests.  What Genia offers readers is far from a simple gritty look at underground fighting.  Raw Combat is a rare, often humorous, and intimate glimpse into the world of New York Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).  It is a love letter to the sport and community he has covered since the beginning.  For me, it was a walk through memory lane.  Reading about longtime friends, gyms, and events past and present often brought a smile to my face or heaviness to my heart (RIP Paul Rosner and Gene Fabrikant).  New York, where MMA competition is still illegal, is a time capsule.  Jim Genia is our official historian.
Since NHB and similar combat sports were criminalized by New York’s Governor Pataki in 1997, the rest of the country has moved on.  As NHB fighting evolved into regulated MMA, state after state saw the merits of the new sport.  By 2000, the foundation of what would become the formal rules for MMA had been approved by the California State Athletic Commission.  Following California’s lead, that same year, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board sanctioned the first regulated MMA event (The International Fighting Championships) and in 2001 adopted similar more refined rules; complete with weight classes, a long list of fouls, and the strict safety, medical and technical requirements expected of any professional combat sport.  By 2009, the Association of Boxing Commissions formally approved and adopted New Jersey’s rules as the “Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.”  It was only a matter of time before the sport of MMA was ubiquitous in the United States; except for New York that is (and as of this writing Vermont and Connecticut as well).
What Genia offers in Raw Combat is a detailed timeline of the trials and tribulations of a martial art community abandoned and forsaken during this time of evolution.  He allows readers to peek behind the curtain into a community forced to live in the past, presently struggling to participate in the sport it cherishes.  
Underground or unsanctioned fighting is often used as an example of why MMA should be legalized in New York.  Poor oversight, questionable safety precautions, and lack of regulation threaten the well being of the athletes.  If New York were to legalize and regulate MMA, underground fighting would vanish as it has in surrounding states. This can hardly be denied and Genia clearly demonstrates this to be the case.  
However, I have often felt that the case against unsanctioned fighting has been overstated; misrepresented.  The “underground world of mixed martial arts”, as the book’s title calls it, is often presented as a bone crushing dark place where bloody animalistic instincts rule and respect for humanity and civility are absent.  Uneducated mainstream media often suggests that no self respecting legitimate athlete would sink to such a level as to participate in these types of events. 
As one reads through Raw Combat, it becomes very clear that the membrane between the worlds of regulated MMA and unregulated NHB fighting is much more permeable, and much less threatening than people unfamiliar with the sport like to think.  As I read through the book, I was confronted with fond memories of heading to New Jersey to watch Bart Vale referee BAMA Fight Night, an unsanctioned show hosted by then unknown Big Dan Miragliotta at his Bayside Academy of Martial Arts. Big Dan is now one of the most respected referees in sanctioned MMA, seen in the ring or cage at just about every top shelf show there is.   
Raw Combat reminds us UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and many other now known athletes got their start in unregulated events.  We see that the cast of characters training fighters for regulated events in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, etc., are more often than not the same folks participating in unregulated shows in New York; most commonly the Underground Combat League (UCL).  We learn in Raw Combat, that while regulation is without a doubt safer and better for our sport, the folks who participate in unregulated shows are not the villains they are often presented as; regardless of whether they make it to the big show or not. In fact, we learn that customarily, despite the primitive nature of many underground events, it is mutual respect and sportsmanship that still rules the day.
Contrary to the book’s title, Genia spends plenty of time sharing his observations and experiences from the world of regulated MMA. We learn the history noted New York fighter and former Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman Good.  We follow the rise and fall of underground boxer turned pro MMA fighter, Kimbo Slice.  Genia shares the heartbreaking story of my friend and former student Kaream Ellington, the local would be champion that could not escape the demons of his past.  We are treated to behind the scenes stories from the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships as well as many east coast MMA shows that launched the careers of several fighters including Sportfighting, the Mixed Fighting Championships, Reality Fighting, Caged Fury Fighting Championships, and Ring of Combat.  Likewise, we ride the rollercoaster of such failed leagues as the International Fight League and EliteXC.
While I do feel at times the book may not clearly delineate the line between NHB and MMA, critical when educating new fans, when all is said and done Genia offers us an important piece of history gleaned from nearly two decades of being the quiet guy sitting in the back with a notepad.  Raw Combat has something for both fans of MMA and newcomers alike.  For the average reader who was not there as I was, Raw Combat makes them feel like they were.  While Genia stakes his claim as official historian for the New York MMA community, his witty tongue-in-cheek style allows him to play court jester as well.  And in that role, he reveals some honest truths about our sport.  Most importantly, Genia reminds us that the roots of Mixed Martial Arts lie firmly in New York and that we have been denied our birthright since 1997.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Raissman's Ranting. By Michael Steczkowski

This editorial by Michael Steczkowski of the Darce Side Radio is in response to Bob Raissman's artcle "Blood Money"* from Yesterday's Daily News

I usually try not to read anything a mainstream journalist like Bob Raissman writes, because  he is beyond irritating and often annoying.  However, I still found myself uncontrollably drawn to his column on Sunday just to see how much I disagreed with him.  I usually read his articles, mumble a few choice words on my opinion of him, then move on.
Yesterday Raissman decided to talk about Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and I almost spit out some of the delicious Captain Lawrence Pale Ale I was drinking.  Yes I was having a beer early on Sunday.  No big deal right? But, if you were a star athlete in Mr. Raissman's eyes, you’d be a heathen.  That’s the kind of vibe you get from him on a consistent basis.
Mr. Raissmans take on MMA and the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) recent TV deal with FOX is much like like any movie critic's review of a horror movie; always one star or less, and horrible.  As a horror movie fan, I often get the vibe that the movies are not watched and the reviews are just mailed in.  Reviews are passed off as acceptable because a lot of people who aren’t fans think the films are gory, campy crap.  Same problem lies in the public perception of MMA!  Today Mr. Raissman was the horror film reviewer, he gave a bad one, and he clearly doesn’t watch the sport.
“Blood Money” was the title of Sunday’s gem of an article.  Raissman is appalled at the idea of the UFC being promoted during Major League Baseball (MLB) telecasts on FOX, especially if it’s during the playoffs.  Here is a direct quote:

“Still, going full throttle promoting the blood and guts, the punching and crunching of UFC is different.  The graphic nature of this type of promotion might upset suits inside baseballs establishment.”
Not only are we back to reading about “blood and guts” but, now we are subjected to a new mis-characterization of “punching and crunching.”  Did Raissman come up with that on his own, or did he steal that from Walt Frazier? (for  fellow Knicks fans).  He also eluded to Dana White's suggestion that we need to educate the masses about MMA:
In order to "educate the masses" the violence of UFC must be presented to paint an accurate picture of what fans can expect to see. It's a major selling point.
Raissman then followed up with the ultimate kicker:

“Does the MLB commissioner really want violent UFC spots running between innings?”
Let me guess, this could lead to kids who see MMA on FOX getting into fights because they are trying to emulate the athletes?  Entirely possible if FOX does "mix baseball with blood,"  Raissman suggests. Everyone loves to have something or someone to blame instead of looking at themselves, after all, we do live in the land of the scapegoat.

Raissman clearly needs to educate himself on the sport of MMA.  To write a column about a sport without any knowledge of it is completely irresponsible.  It lacks credibility and validity.  If you don’t know about something, you research it, learn about it, and gain knowledge of the subject.  This is the intelligence behind journalistic standards.  But, in this case Raissman lacks both. He’d rather attack the sport we know and love with the same old negative rhetoric. 
I said on my show last week that the UFC’s deal with FOX might not sway the New York vote right away, but it is undoubtedly another bullet in the chamber to fight with.  I know, I know...I should use a less violent example  (sorry couldn’t resist).  The more people who see it, especially on a major network, the increased chance it will be recognized. 
Lets hope Dana White and the UFC “educate the masses” this fall when the UFC comes to FOX.  Lets get pumped up for promos being seen between innings of playoff baseball games.  I hate those football robots on Sunday NFL broadcasts, but if you throw some shorts on them and make them MMA Boots I will jump for joy!  Let's hope we see the cameras point out George St. Pierre or Cain Velasquez sitting in the stands of a big game, or have the opportunity to hear Dana White, or maybe Joe Rogan or Frankie Edgar talking with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during a telecast!  FOX has always had a reputation for having balls.  They didn’t spend all that money to not promote the UFC. 
We can’t stop articles like the one that just came out, but we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and that is supporting MMA and New York MMA!  I firmly believe that come the fall MMA will finally start to be seen on the same level as NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL.  Some of the greatest athletes in the sport will start to be seen in a different light and taken more seriously.  The real “blood and guts” reputation will be seen as well.  The “blood and guts” and sweat and tears of the fighters, trainers, managers, promoters, writers and supporters of MMA and New York MMA!
Then the naysayers will have nothing to stand behind.

Michael Steczkowski, Co-Host of Darce Side Radio 

* The article was titled "Blood Money" in the print version of Sunday's Daily News.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Get Cuomo on Board for NY MMA Now!

Hi all,

Now is the time to put the pressure on folks. We may not have succeeded in getting the professional sport of Mixed Martial Arts legalized this year, but that does not mean the fight is over. In fact, the fight is far from over. Now is the time to keep fighting! Don't wait till January, 2012 to start all over again. We have had monumental support and movement this year. The grass roots support for Mixed Martial Arts has blossomed in New York this year. We must keep the ball rolling - NOW!

It is in my opinion (and that of many others) that it is imperative to get Governor Cuomo's public support on this issue. Would Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Farrell (Ways and Means Committee Chairman) block this legislation if the Governor publicly spoke in favor of Mixed Martial Arts? I think not.

The Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY has worked very closely with many legislators up in Albany. Perhaps the most passionate and motivated has been Assemblyman Dean Murray of Long Island.  Assemblyman Murray, like myself and many others, believes we must get Cuomo on board before 2012. It has been suggested that were the bill to get to Cuomo's desk, he would sign it into law. Now is the time to put the pressure on Cuomo to speak out. He must take a public position on this issue. Let's not let this issue fade from the minds of our legislators.

Assemblyman Murray has written a pettition to Governor Cuomo. Now it is time for all the members and followers of the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY to act!


Download the petition, print it out, and return it to Assemblyman Murray. It is that simple. Let's get thousands of names on Cuomo's desk by January...or sooner!


Mail the signed petition to:

Assemblyman Dean Murray
1735 North Ocean Ave
Suite A
Medford, N.Y. 11763

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Big Thanks to Klutch!

Klutch Wear has been an active member of the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York and an example of what a local business can do to help the cause!

They started by sponsoring the New York MMA Documentary last May at the Bronx Week Film Festival by giving away free shirts to ticket buyers. Then, they included the NY MMA NOW logo on their signage at the Jones Beach store, where they are selling shirts for the summer. They continued to help by giving away a NY MMA fact sheet to each customer with every purchase of a Klutch Wear shirt. But, that has not been enough for them...

Now, on their new re-designed website, they have included an entire "Legalize MMA in NY" page!

These guys walk the walk. They don't just talk about supporting MMA in NY, the go out and do it!

Everyone please check out their new website and check out the new "Legalize MMA in NY" t-shirts they have up for grabs!

Thanks to Klutch and all their support of NY MMA!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coalition in Black Belt Magazine

Not sure if any of you saw this, but the August, 2011 issue of Black Belt addressed the issue Mixed Martial Arts in New York. I was glancing over the newsstand checking out the cover stories on Black Belt and other magazines. I was actually searching for an article on Fedor Emilianenko from the previous month's issue of Black Belt. But what I saw on the cover of August's issue was the headline: "Will MMA Ever Be Legal in New York?"

The Article, titled "The Chosen One" by Mark Jacobs, discusses the struggles we have had getting Mixed Martial Arts into New York and ponders the possible weight of New York based UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones' influence on the issue.

In the article, Mr. Jacobs took time to note The Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY and our rally earlier this year in front of Assembly Speak Sheldon Silver's office (though you got some of the timeline wrong Mark)

I just wanted to say thanks to Mark for the mention and note to all our readers that this issue is not dead and our Coalition's reach and voice is expanding. Don't give up!

To read Mark Jacob's complete article, pick up the August, 2011 issue of Black Belt Magazine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Astoria Beer Garden to Screen New York Mixed Martial Arts this Saturday

By Peter Lampasona of US Combat Sports

This Saturday in Astoria, New York, the famous Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden will be hosting two free screening of the documentary New York Mixed Martial Arts. The film is the feature-length guerrilla creation of director Kahleem Poole-Tejada and producer Stephen Koepfer.

Made in response to the ongoing legal battle for the sanctioning of MMA in the Empire State, New York Mixed Martial Arts follows the issue through the lens of a young amateur fighter, Brad Desir, in the process of making the jump to professional fighting. The film features interviews with such MMA staples as Josh Barnett, Fedor Emilianenko, Tara LaRosa, Bas Rutten, Frank Shamrock and UFC president Dana White.

New York Mixed Martial Arts premiered as an official selection and opener of the 2011 Bronx Week Film Festival and has since been screening in select locations within New York State...

Read the entire article here

Monday, July 25, 2011

More Union Blues for Zuffa

In the wake of New York's failure to legalize and regulate MMA by the end of the 2011 legislative calendar (last June), Zuffa continues to push their narrative that culinary union resistance is blocking MMA in our state; despite any clear evidence supporting such a story. In recent media appearances, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta have essentially suggested that New York Assembly leadership (read Speaker Sheldon Silver) is in the union's pocket.

In a nutshell, Zuffa's story goes like this:

Majority UFC owners, Frank Fertitta III & Lorenzo Fertitta, also own the non-union Station Casino chain in Nevada. Station Casinos have been involved in a long and arduous battle with Unite Here and its member unions in Nevada (the now bankrupt Station Casinos often on the losing end). In retribution against the Fertittas, Unite Here is blocking MMA in NY through the local cullinary uinion.

Rather than rewrite an entire editorial on the topic, I have continually updated my May 13th editorial as this story has developed over the past months. At the bottom of the page you will find a timeline of stories related to the development of this story. Please take some time to review the evidence and varied opinions for yourself. I am sure many of you are seeing the various stories in the press, scratching your head, and thinking to yourself "this union story does not make sense". And, you are right. It does not make sense. Where was the union resistance in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and other states to recently regulate MMA?

What does make sense is that Zuffa's apparent policy of pushing this union story and airing their own dirty laundry (regardless of whether the unions are actually offering significant resistance) is shooting us in the foot here in New York. Zuffa continually presents themselves as the only faction of the sport that really matters. Many non-fans believe that the UFC is the sport, not that the UFC is part of the sport. In reality, the UFC would only be a small part of the New York MMA community. Yet, the average voter and legislator will associate the Fertittas and their questionable practices in Nevada with the the Sport of MMA as a whole. 

While this strategy may allow the Fertittas to take a few shots at their Nevada opponents, it can't be good for New York MMA.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Official Website for "New York Mixed Martial Arts"

Our acclaimed documentary "New York Mixed Martial Arts" finally has an official website! Everyone please take a moment to check it out.

New York Mixed Martial Arts
(Kahl One Film Productions & The Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY, 2011)

New York Mixed Martial Arts is an enthralling documentary that provides a back seat view of the grass roots struggle to legalize and regulate the professional sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) in New York State. New York is one of a handful of states in which MMA is still outlawed; sacrificing athlete safety, jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to neighboring states and countries since 1997. In his first feature length film, martial artist and filmmaker Kahleem Poole – Tejada presents an intimate account of the struggle to legalize MMA through the lens of one amateur fighter’s (Bradley Desir) quest to turn professional under the guidance of his coach (Stephen Koepfer). Viewers are offered a rare glimpse behind the curtain of the political, sometimes frightening, and always exciting world of mixed martial arts.

Stephen Koepfer

Kahleem Poole-Tejada

Levan Reginald Hines

Robert Billings

Bradley Desir
Stephen Koepfer
Tyga Maclin
Eddie Goldman
Paula Romero
Justin Klein

Josh Barnett
Gesias Calvacante
Fedor Emilianenko
Steve Kardian
Steven Katz
Tara LaRosa
New York Assemblyman Dean Murray
Nestor Marte
New York City Councilman Joel Rivera
Bas Rutten
Oleg Savitsky
Frank Shamrock
Mike Straka
Dana White

58 minutes

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Old Guard, Unions, and an Open Letter to Dana White

Considering that it has been about a month since Assemblyman Farrell, Chairman of the Assembly Ways & Means Committee, stamped out MMA's chances in NY for 2011, this week has shown an unusual amount of local news stories and buzz regarding the sport in NY. This is a good thing because it is now that we need to keep pushing the issue. I am glad to see many people continuing the fight!

Of particular interest was one editorial by Matthew Ryder in the Bleacher Report in which he places a lion's share of blame (appropriately in my opinion) for MMA's failure in NY squarely on the old guard of sports media. The editorial is worth reading for an accurate perspective that is all too often swept under the rug.

The second piece of NY MMA media this week came in the form of an appearance by UFC President Dana White on the Opie & Anthony show. Mr. White continued to blame the culinary union for defeating MMA in NY as a putative measure against the embattled Fertitta brothers (majority owners of the UFC) who run the non-union Station Casino chain in Las Vegas.

I have commented on the fallacy of this line of thinking prior and most recently pointed out that despite a desire to find a "big bad wolf" at the root of NY's MMA problems, the reality is that it is a few old powerful men in Albany who simply don't want the sport in our state.

In response to Mr. White's continued placing of blame on the unions, Peter Lampasona published an open letter to Mr. White strongly encouraging him to reconsider Zuffa's tactics in NY and employ of Global Strategy Group, Zuffa's NY PR firm.
Dear Dana White,

I'm writing you this letter to discuss an issue that affects people at every level of the mixed martial arts industry: the sanctioning of the sport in the state of New York. Specifically, I'd like to call to your attention some concerns that I and other MMA supporters in the state have with Global Strategy Group, the public affairs and research firm that Zuffa has hired to represent their interests on the sanctioning issue.

I've written this communication as an open letter rather than a private one for two reasons. First, I feel that while you and other members of Zuffa have the greatest interest in knowing what an independent contractor under your employ has been doing, the information contained in this letter is important for everyone to know if MMA is to succeed in the Empire State in 2012. Second, I understand that you are one of the busiest men in the industry and the only way this letter will seem important enough to be worth reading is if the MMA community at large agrees that it is important, before hand....

To read the rest of Mr. Lampasona's letter, click here

This recent flurry of local media activity regarding MMA in NY shows us that the fight is not even close to being over. We have built up tremendous momentum this year in our battle for legal MMA in NY and the battle is obviously raging on despite the best efforts of a few not-so-good men in Albany.

For a solid post mortem on the 2011 battle for MMA in NY, listen to this episode of No Holds Barred with Eddie Goldman and myself.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York.