Thursday, February 17, 2011

Correcting the Record: Alex Wolf of PressBox

In his article, MMA Legalization Faces Long Road In Empire State, Alex Wolf describes the long road ahead in the battle for legal and regulated mixed martial arts in New York State. He accurately describes recent efforts including the UFC's press conference at Madison Square Garden and our historic February 8th rally in lower Manhattan (though he fails to mention who organized the rally). Wolf goes on to note that the long battle for MMA in NY has become increasingly challenging since Governor Cuomo has not included it in his 2011-12 budget proposal, surprisingly snubbing New York MMA athletes, coaches, fans, and the UFC despite happily taking nearly $75,000 of campaign lobby dollars from Zuffa.

But, that's where the facts end and the fiction begins.

Wolf goes on to write:

In 2010, the New York state Senate included a provision in the budget to legalize and tax MMA fights, but the provision was removed immediately after the death of a fighter during a professional bout in South Carolina. The potential for grievous injury disturbed lawmakers in New York, who were quickly able to reverse any momentum that would have helped  legalize MMA.
This statement, while being factually incorrect, also makes a giant leap in terms of attributing the failure of last year's MMA legislation to the June 28th death of Michael Kirkham. The truth of the matter is that the Governor Patterson did include the legalization of mixed martial arts in his 2010-11 budget proposal. Furthermore, contrary to Wolf's assertion, 12 days prior to the unfortunate death of Michael Kirkham, The NY senate did pass legislation to legalize MMA on June 16th, 2010.

It was the New York assembly where MMA legislation hit its 2010 road block. After passing through the sports and tourism committee with a vast majority of support, the bill failed to make it to the general floor for a vote. According to former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, co-sponsor of the bill and guest on Cage Radio, it was the vocal minority who spoke up in the assembly democratic conference where bills are reviewed. The assembly democratic conference is often used as a barometer by the assembly leadership (Speaker Sheldon Silver) to determine priority and importance of impending legislation.

According to Benjamin, the lack of assemblypersons willing to speak favorably in conference on the topic indicated to leadership that the assembly was not ready to legalize MMA in New York. As a result, on June 28th MMA was stripped from the assembly's budget language. While this was coincidentally the same day the Kirkham passed away, there has never been any indication that news regarding his unfortunate death made its way to Albany to affect the assembly leadership's decision. To suggest otherwise is quite a stretch.

Steven Englebright, co-sponsor of last year's bill and chair of the sports and tourism committee at that time stated that the MMA language was removed by the ways and means committee because assembly democrats could not agree on whether to include it. Regarding the topic of MMA in NY, he further stated "We did not vote against mixed martial arts, we just didn't have it before us to vote on."

In his article Wolf goes on to suggest:
Supporters of legalization will need to provide a comprehensive and accessible report to refute claims about the risk of fatalities and life-altering injuries for fighters. In Maryland, supporters demonstrated that the number of deaths from boxing and kickboxing dwarfs the number from MMA.
As if we have not been doing this for years. I find it infuriating that Wolf invokes the name of Michael Kirkham, yet fails to mention in any significant journalistic way how rare deaths in mixed martial arts actually are. Wolf, neglects the issue in his own soap box and suggests we do it for him instead.

Well, we in New York have done it and will continue to do it. Wolf fails to mention that Kirkham's death was only the second MMA related fatality in the United States, and only the third in the history of the sport. Furthermore, the first MMA related fatality was in fact not an MMA fatality. It was in an unregulated no holds barred (NHB) bout in the Ukraine. While MMA has its roots in NHB, they are two different animals. It is equally important to note that there has never been an MMA related death in any regulated A level mixed martial arts organization (in UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Elite XC, or M1-Global).

Yes, it may be a long road to legalization in New York, but it is poorly researched press pieces like this one that will make the road longer.

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