Since 1997, when the draconian ban on mixed martial arts (MMA) was put in place, New York fans and athletes have been longing to be able to watch and safely compete in the sport we love. We have wanted to enjoy MMA in our home state in front of our friends and families. During the past fourteen years the sport has grown up around us, matured around us, and benefited the states and countries around us. New York is the pedestrian who stands alone on the platform after just missing his train.
New York has not been left completely behind. We have fighters, gyms, coaches, and legions of New York fans that travel and spend lots of money to participate or watch professional and amateur MMA events elsewhere. Still, most of us are only able to watch the sport we love on television. We are taunted by Times Square billboards advertising the latest UFC event. We are regularly reminded of what we don’t have when New York hosts the World MMA Expo, Strikeforce fan events, UFC press conferences, or book signings with our favorite fighters. All this only reminds us that we New Yorkers still live in the dark ages.
We New Yorkers have come close to getting what we want. During the past several years we have seen bills introduced in Albany that would finally bring MMA back to New York; only to have the light at the end of the tunnel extinguished by an ignorant vocal minority in opposition led by figure head Assemblyman Bob Reilly. But, Bob Reilly is only one man who can’t even justify his own argument when push comes to shove.
In 2010 Governor Patterson included MMA in his budget proposal and bills that would allow for legal and regulated MMA passed through committee in both the Senate and Assembly. The Senate voted favorably and passed the legislation. New Yorkers were excited. We really believed 2010 would be the year. All we needed was the approval of the Assembly. That approval never came.
Despite passing favorably though the required Assembly committees, Speaker Sheldon Silver never put the legislation to the floor for a vote. Silver holds the keys to the car in this regard. On the record, Silver can conveniently justify his refusal to put the legislation up for a vote by stating he simply responds to the will of the Assembly; that in conference, few Assemblypersons spoke up in support of the legislation. Silver has never given an on the record opinion regarding the legislation or sport itself. He prefers to stay quiet behind his curtain pulling the strings.
So here we are in 2011 fighting the same battle again like some bizarre historical re-enactment. Once again, legislation is on the move toward approval in the Senate; already having passed favorably through the required committees. Once again, legislation is scheduled to go into committee in the Assembly. Once again Bob Reilly is standing on his soapbox and sending memos urging Assemblypersons not to support regulated MMA in New York. And once again, we may find ourselves at the mercy of Speaker Sheldon Silver’s whims. What is different this year is that our legislators have been for from silent on the issue.
More New York legislators have spoken out in favor of regulated MMA than ever before. Main stream media is pushing for legalization like we have never seen. New Yorkers have organized to fight for MMA like never before. Sheldon Silver heard us loud and clear when we rallied in front of his New York office last February. Sources in Albany tell us that the topic of MMA has never been discussed with such frequency and urgency.
Perhaps the most encouraging evidence that things are favorably moving in Albany is a memo (attached below) that was obtained by the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York. The memo, which urges Assemblypersons to support legal and regulated MMA, was authored by Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright of New York’s 70th District. Assemblyman Wright outlines perhaps one of the strongest arguments in favor of MMA regulation in the Empire State.
It has never been more important for New Yorkers to contact their Assemblypersons. It has never been more critical that we do more than sign petitions and send letters. Now is the time to get out there and call or make appointments to meet our legislators in person. It is time to tell them face to face (politely please!) that we want regulated and legal MMA in New York.
This is the year that Sheldon Silver will hear the will of an Assembly that wants mixed martial arts!