Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UPDATED: NY MMA NOW on KnoqOut Radio Tomorrow - 9PM!

I will be appearing on KnoqOut Radio tomorrow night live. The show begins at 9pm and I will be in the second half. Please tune in and learn the latest news regarding the fight for legal MMA in New York State!

KnoqOut MMA Radio and Podcast

KnoqOut MMA Radio returns LIVE this Wednesday, 9:00 PM Eastern time to recap UFC Fight Night: Seattle, Bellator 38 and all the happenings in the MMA world!

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

UPDATE: Episode 68 now avaiable for download on iTunes or the KnoqOut Radio website!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UPDATED: Michael Benjamin New York Post Op-Ed

The Right Kick For NY
Legalize Mixed Martial Arts
By Michael Benjamin

New York should not sit by as adjoining states and Canadian provinces sponsor MMA shows and reap the economic benefits. Nor should New York prevent its native sons from competing in their home state. The time to legalize MMA is now.
Read Benjamin's entire Op-Ed here

Comment: Michael Benjamin is a great supporter of MMA and our coalition. Take some time to listen to him on this episode of cage radio. We greatly appreciate his efforts on our behalf!

Nevertheless, I need to correct the record and say that Mixed Martial Arts is NOT "ultimate fighting" or "no-holds-barred" as noted in this editorial. These terms refer to the old no-rules days. We supporters of MMA MUST stop using such antiquated terms that contradict what our sport is, offers ammunition to the opposition, and misleads the average mainstream media reader who may be ignorant to our sport.

UPDATE 3/24/2011:
Michael Benjamin contacted me this morning and asked that I post the following:

It was not my intention to undermine my argument with such an outdated definition of what is now a truly well regulated sport. Mixed martial arts is a regulated professional and amateur sport where martial artists and combat sports athletes from diverse training backgrounds can compete safely under a unified set of rules and the oversight of state athletic commissions. And I support the athletes and fans who have made mixed martial arts the fastest growing sport worldwide. I will continue working to lift of the current New York State ban on mixed martial arts.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

UPDATED: Jones' title shot brings NY MMA into the spotlight

Tonight, just across the river from New York City, UFC 128 will take place in New Jersey. The pre-fight press conference was held this past Wednesday in New York (at Radio City Music Hall) with great reception from New York fans, including NYC Councilman Joel Rivera. The main event boasts challenger and native New Yorker Jon Jones against current Light Heavyweight UFC Champion, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua. 

Simply put, it is sad that Jones, a New Yorker, stepping into the cage for the fight of his career, can't do it in his home state. Jones himself points out the irony in an op-ed he penned for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Rashad Evans, another native New Yorker, MMA fighter and former UFC Champion recently commented in an op-ed for the Buffalo News.

This moment (or lost moment) in New York MMA history is not being overlooked by the mainstream media.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NY1 News, the NY Post, and CBS News have covered the story. Even NY1 News hosted UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta on Inside City Hall, where they once again made the clear case in favor of our professional sport of mixed martial arts.

However, still leading the pack in opposition to mixed martial arts in New York State is Assemblyman Bob Reilly (D, Albany & Saratoga). Subsequent to White and Fertitta, Reilly also appeared on NY1's Inside City Hall to once again state his uninformed moralistic case against mixed martial arts.  Ray Krueger details Reilly's case as well as the history of New York's battle for legal and regulated MMA in today's New York Times.

Amid what is arguably the worst economic climate New York State legislators have ever had to face, it is almost inconceivable that Assemblyman Reilly continues to ignorantly defend the ban of the professional sport of mixed martial arts. In fact, in a recent Albany television news story, Reilly has even suggested banning professional boxing!

As we New Yorker’s face a budget gap of ten billion dollars that threatens public education, healthcare, public transportation, public television and radio, services for senior citizens, and countless other critical services and jobs, Reilly continues to focus his valuable energies towards blasting our sport and misrepresenting the facts.  He continues standing on his soap box despite a near ubiquitous acceptance of the sport across the United States, a demonstrated health and safety record that exceeds most other popular contact sports, and significant financial benefits that could be brought to New York during its greatest time of need - without creating a single new tax.

While some suggest it is not simply a desire to legislate morals that keeps Reilly focused on this crusade, one has to wonder where Assemblyman Reilly’s priorities really lie as he continues to legislate in accordance with his own moral compass and willingly disregard the facts and desires of New Yorkers in the process.

The bottom line is not about dollars, as Assemblyman Reilly states. I could not agree more. In the end, mixed martial arts is a professional sport and all professional sports should be regulated for the safety of the athletes.

Note: To see my assessment of the Sienna Poll Assemblyman Reilly mentions during his NY1 Interview, read: Correcting the Record, The Sienna Research Institute Poll

UPDATE: Jones did win the title and will likely firht Rashad Evans as his first defense. Evans is another native New Yorker. We will soon see 2 New Yorkers competing for the UFC Lt. Heavyweight Title and they can't do it in their home state!

Just to give some perspective on where MMA fighters come from, here is Jon Jones competing in a grappling tournament in January, 2008 (Ithica, NY)...before his MMA debut:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

UPDATE: NYC Councilman Joel Rivera supports MMA in New York

I am very please to announce that NYC Councilman Joel Rivera (D, 15th District, Majority Leader) has been in communication with the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York, has voiced his support and thrown his hat into the battle for legal MMA in New York.  I have had the pleasure of beginning discussions with Councilman Rivera's office regarding how we can collaborate to help get mixed martial arts legalized this year. Some very interesting projects are in the works. Keep your eyes open folks!

In addition, Councilman Rivera spoke at the UFC press conference at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday, March 16th at 12:30PM.

While on the surface legalizing mixed martial arts may seem to be out of the scope of New York City governement, the reality is that leaglizing our professional sport is critically dependent on support of ALL our elected officials accross the state, both local and otherwise.

On behalf of all New Yorkers, the Coalition would like to thank Councilman Rivera for reaching out to us and lending his support to the fight for legal MMA in New York!

UPDATED: 3/19/2011

Today I was very pleased to meet Councilman Rivera and his Director of Public Affairs, Christine Capetillo at the Radio City Hall press conference. We began discussing some great joint ventures! To learn more about Councilman Rivera and his views on MMA, read:

In 2010 Rivera was co-sponsor (along with Councilman Jumaane D. Williams) of a resultion in the NYC council that calls upon the New York State Legislature to pass Assembly legislation which would legalize Mixed Martial Arts in the State of New York:  Resolution 0318-2010 

NY1 News:  UFC Supporters Make Case To Legalize Sport In New York

News 12: Bronx MMA fans push for right to fight

Bronx News Network: Bronx Pol Joel Rivera Rallies to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts

US Combat Sports: Councilman Joel Rivera Joins Fight for MMA in New York

Fighters Only: NYC Politics Heavyweight Rivera comes firmly in the UFC Corner

Boggie Downer: Councilman Joel Rivera joins Dana White, President of UFC to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York.

Correcting the Record: Sienna Research Institute Poll

In a poll published by the Siena Research Institute of Siena College (Loudonville, NY) published today, it is concluded that New Yorkers are equally divided on the issue of legalizing mixed martial arts. The poll reports:

Currently, residents are evenly divided on legalizing mixed martial arts (MMA), known as ultimate fighting, as 39 percent favor legalization while 41 percent find it dangerous, even barbaric and would ban it. “Majorities of men, those age 18 to 34 and avid sports fans support MMA while older New Yorkers and women are most opposed to the sport that supporters insist would generate fan interest, and be an engine of economic development,”
One of my major criticisms about the common argument used by many fans, the mainstream media and other sources to defend MMA's legalization in NY is the fact that it could bring substantial economic benefit to the state. This is the position offered in the Siena poll. While it is true that MMA could bring needed revenue into New York, this argument is generally positioned against the opposing sentiment that mixed martial arts is too "dangerous, even barbaric."  This juxtaposition generally leaves the uneducated New Yorker to believe the final argument in favor of MMA is: "Yes, MMA is barbaric, but let's legalize it for the money."  This could not be further from the reality of our sport and where supporters of our MMA stand.

Anyone in research knows that polls can be fairly reliable, but they are often the least reliable method of inquiry for many reasons. We also know that the outcome of a poll is entirely dependent on the language of the pollster. Let's examine this Siena poll question in more detail:

The question read by pollsters to the subjects in this study was:
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?
Now, this poll does attempt to control for various levels of sports fan in the study. And not surprisingly, among people who considered themselves avid sports fans, the poll was not equally split at all. 59% of avid fans supported legalization and 31% did not. 15% claimed not to have enough information. Among non-sports fans, the results were opposite with 29% of respondents in favor, 43% not in favor, and 23 % claiming they did not have enough information.This discrepancy in results between avid fans and non-fans highlight the critical need for education of the general public about what mixed martial arts is and what it is not.

It stands to reason that avid fans would have better education and understanding regarding what mixed martial arts is and what it is not, thus being more likely to support legalization as the poll showed. However, it is the non-fans that are the critical element in this study, and for the battle to legalize MMA in New York. It should be fairly obvious that the majority of New Yorkers would fall into the "non-fan" category when it comes to MMA. It is these people who will answer a poll question based primarily on how the question is worded (and how the mainstream media presents the sport).

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. This brings us back to my original criticism. This poll 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. In my opinion, this poll was destined to show lack of support for MMA in New York.

*To review the entire Siena poll results view here

Coalition Rally covered in "The Reem"

K1, Dream and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem covers the February 8th Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York Rally in episode one of his documentary series "The Reem"

Monday, March 14, 2011

NY MMA NOW on "Fight Show with Mauro Ranallo"

Today, Stephen Koepfer of the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in NY was on "Fight Show with Mauro Ranallo" regarding legalization of MMA in NY and the early inclusion of the MMA bill (New York Senate Bill 1707A) on the agenda of the Senate Standing Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation.

You can catch the reply at the link about or on iTunes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Correcting the Record: Matthew Saccaro and the Bleacher Report

On February 26th, 2011, Matthew Saccaro published an article on the Bleacher Report called: Carmelo Anthony, UFC and New York: How Do They Fit Together?

In his article Saccaro states (correctly in my opinion) that mixed martial arts is not as popular as fans like to believe and this is demonstrated by the fact that MMA's legal woes in New York are being overshadowed in the mainstream media by such sports stories like Carmello Anthony's move to New York or the impending NFL lockout.

Mr. Saccaro then goes on to state:

Despite the burgeoning MMA scene within New York—meaning the prevalence of MMA gyms and the emergence of fighters such as Gian Villante and Chris Weidman, who will take on Alessio Sakara at UFC on Versus 3—the UFC has not been able to pervade the minds of a majority of New York's sports-watching population.

The recent “Legalize MMA” rally that took place back in February clearly failed to strike a chord with the New York State government [bold added], since nothing is being done. Perhaps the UFC is appealing too much to the government’s head and not its wallet
It is this comment about the UFC and the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY rally where Saccaro starts to drift. In this quote as well as the majority of the article, his implication that the UFC is synonymous with MMA in NY is off base.  MMA is a professional sport. The UFC is a brand, a huge brand, but still just a brand. To cover a sport as if a single brand (yes, the largest one) comprises the entirety of the sport is inaccurate to say the least.

Contrary to what Saccaro states, the point of our rally was to reach everyday New Yorkers, not Albany. After all, it is everyday New Yorkers (voters) who will challenge our legislators in Albany.

Of course the rally's location was chosen for strategic reasons having to do with affairs in Albany, but the main goal of the rally was (as has been clarified as such many times) to see who was paying attention to our coalition's efforts, to begin correcting the record for the mainstream media and to reach everyday New Yorkers face to face. This goal was accomplished. After all, Saccaro is mentioning us, right?

Over a month later, we are still feeling the effects of the rally. We are still talking with legislators, fielding phone calls, requests for interviews, and e-mails of support. Members of the coalition have been interviewed for impending articles in Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. The rally was covered in the New York Daily News, New York Metro, NBC's All Night with Joey Reynolds (as a lead up to the rally), and a host of martial arts/MMA media sources including the most mainstream sports media source possible: ESPN. I would say that for a first public event, in the dead of winter, we made significant impact.

Having said that, the rally gave us an opportunity to get boots on the ground and meet/talk with the "man on the street", which did confirm what both Saccaro and I believe: That MMA is not nearly as known as we fans would like to think. Passers by who attended all or portions of the rally's speeches ranged from those in the know to those who had no idea was MMA was or though we were still bare knuckle brawlers...and everything in between (we distributed 600 fact sheets). In fact, the police officer who issued me our permit for the rally had no idea MMA was illegal in New York State. The rally was a clear indication of how far we do have to go in terms of mainstream education.

So, after noting that our rally had no affect in Albany (he never mentions who organized the rally), Saccaro then goes on to state:
"Perhaps the UFC is appealing too much to the government’s head and not its wallet."
Saccaro implies that the UFC was behind the rally and then suggests that the UFC is not paying enough attention to Albany's wallet. He can't be serious. Has he been paying attention?

Let's be clear about this: The UFC had nothing to do with the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY Rally. We would have loved to have had support from Zuffa, but unfortunately none was forthcoming despite invitations to the contrary. We were very pleased that Strikeforce and M1-Global offered their written support and presence at the rally (Frank Shamrock and Alistair Overeem). In fact, Strikeforce/M1-Global rescheduled their heavyweight grand prix public fan experience so as not to conflict with the rally. But, the rally itself recieved no financial or organizational support from ANY mixed martial arts promotional company.

After some hopeful (and accurate) thoughts about the expansion of the UFC and how it could possibly surpass current "ball sports" in the mainstream media, Saccaro concludes his article with:
Still, the UFC and the sport of MMA have a big mountain to climb. The legalization of MMA in New York is the next biggest step on that mountain.
Yes, legalization is a huge step to take in the world of MMA. And, the UFC certainly will play a big role in the process. They have the largest pulpit and the financial means that others do not. But, everyone has a role to play in this fight: The UFC, Strikeforce (now owned by Zuffa), M1, Bellator, and most of all...New Yorkers.

Without cooperation between ALL these groups we may not make it up the mountain. Our coalition represents New Yorkers who want MMA in New York. Without New Yorkers who are willing to get out and support the sport we love, all the lobbying, media coverage, and pontificating won't help.

It is us, the New York fans who have to get the job done. It is the New York fans who need to make appointments to see their local legislators. It is the New York fans who need to keep writing letters. It is the New York fans who need to keep making phone calls. It is the New York fans who have to keep correcting the record when we see misrepresentations in the media.

We are part of the team, the most important part of the team.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY

West Virginia legalizes MMA while New Jersey sits saturated - implications for New York (edited 4/11/2011)

Congratulations to our brother and sister athletes in West Virginia who can now compete in front of hometown crowds!
On March 8th, the bill that would legalize and provide for regulation of the professional sport of mixed martial arts passed through the West Virgina House of Delegates despite some predictions of the opposite just days earlier. The West Virginia Senate passed the measure by a vote of 23-10 on Saturday, sending the bill to Governor Tomblin to be signed into law. Once signed into law, New York, Connecticut, and Vermont will be left standing alone in the dark as the remaining three states with athletic commissions that do not regulate MMA. Like West Virgina, New York is doubly problematic as MMA is unregulated AND illegal under old draconian law.
MMA is also unregulated in Alaska however, Alaska has no athletic commission to oversee such endeavors.
In Connecticut, movement towards regulation is underway. However, there is a thriving MMA community in Connecticut thanks to the Mohegan Sun Gaming Commission and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation which both sanction and regulate MMA at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos. New Yorkers have no such consolation prize.
Compounding the problem for New York fighters, promoters, and MMA oriented business owners, is the fact that New Jersey (where the sport is legal and regulated) is saturated with MMA.
On September 30, 2000, New Jersey became the first state to host a regulated MMA show under the unified rules by sanctioning the International Fighting Championships. The Garden State made history again a few years later by becoming the first state to regulate amateur MMA.  New Jersey became a beacon for New Yorkers who simply had to cross the border to practice and promote the sport they loved.
A decade later and the story is changing dramatically. As we learned at our Coalition round table meeting last month, New York based promoters are having difficulties in New Jersey and having their calendars pruned due to the inability of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board (NJACB) to handle the massive influx of MMA promotions setting up camp in the Garden State.  In the case of Steven Katz (promoter of the Amateur MMA show "Evolution"), who requested 12 dates for his show in 2011, the NJACB approved 4. Katz was hoping for approximately 8 dates. Compounding the situation, Katz recently closed his Astoria, New York gym as he was out bid on the rent (recently raised by the landlord) by a larger chain gym. Katz (a New Yorker) has taken a significant hit on his potential 2011 income.
[editor's note: due to a misquote by the author, this paragraph was edited on 4/11/2011]
Most recently, Scott Morgan's amateur MMA promotion "New Breed Fighters" took a serious hit due to New Jersey's MMA saturation problem. Morgan's show was scheduled for April 16, 2011 at the Atlantic City Hilton. Approval was given by the NJACB, sanctioning fees were paid (and later refunded), the Hilton was backing the event, a billboard was posted along the Atlantic City Expressway, and promotional materials were distributed. In recent years "New Breed Fighters" has grown into one of the premier amateur shows with a reputation for having developed many of today's successful pro fighters, many of whom are from New York. According to Morgan, 40% of the fighters who have fought for New Breed during its 34 show history have been from New York. Some known pros who have stepped into the New Breed cage as amateurs include Jeff Lentz of The Ultimate Fighter, Sam Oropreza of Strikeforce, and Phil Davis of the UFC.
According to the Atlantic City Press, the NJACB backtracked on the pre-approved date to make way for a larger professional MMA promotion that wanted the same date at a different hotel to run its first Atlantic City show. The Board claims the cancellation is in part due to the fact that a professional show (which booked the date two months after Morgan) stands to bring more revenue into New Jersey. Whether or not this pro show (Caged Fury Fighting Championships) was able to demonstrate more revenue than a New Breed Fighters card has yet to be determined. Morgan notes that this was not the first time the NJACB has cancelled a show of his. Morgan publicly comments on the cancellation on his show's website.
Nicholas Lembo, deputy attorney general, noted that the NJACB's new cancellation policy was enacted on January 1, 2010 as a result of the massive influx of professional MMA shows wanting regulation in New Jersey. Lembo went on to say "You want a guaranteed date? Put on a professional show." 
This sad situation highlights several trends regarding MMA and implications for the future of the sport in New York.
First, and in my opinion, most importantly, mixed martial arts needs proper regulation which protects the rights of professional AND amateur promoters and fighters when the sport is legalized in New York. No sport can grow without a thriving amateur circuit. This is where our future pros will grow, build their skills, and develop their art. To toss them aside as the NJACB has done in Morgan's case indicates a short sighted view of the development of MMA.
Second, the saturation of MMA in New Jersey and insufficient staffing to handle such growth indicates a clear need for regulation in New York. The flooding of MMA in New Jersey is in many ways directly related to the fact that MMA is not sanctioned in New York. Were we able to hold shows in our own state, we would not be putting on as many shows in New Jersey.
Third, New Jersey's saturation with MMA after just 10 years clearly demonstrates the economic benefits mixed martial arts could provide for New York State. According to Nicholas Lembo, the NJACB sanctioned 19 professional MMA and 20 amateur MMA shows in 2010 (and 5 Muay Thai shows). That's a grand total of 494 sanctioned bouts in 2010 (180 pro bouts and 314 amateur bouts). The HR&A financial impact study commissioned by the UFC estimates New York State could stand to make $16 million from two UFC events and $7 million from non-UFC mixed martial arts events annually. Some opponents of MMA in New York suggest that this is not enough to bother with in such desperate financial times. However, I suspect the HR&A figures grossly underestimate non-UFC impact and do not refer to amateur mixed martial arts events which would certainly flourish in New York as they have in New Jersey and other states. In 2010, New Jersey had nearly twice as many amateur bouts as professional.
In the end, regulation is an ethical issue in New York. MMA is a professional sport with a growing amateur presence and all professional sports require regulation to ensure the safety of the athletes.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY.

UPDATE: 3/15/2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Albany Report: MMA Bill hits the ground running in the Senate (Updated 3/15/2011)

Coalition member Justin Klein (the Fight Lawyer) reports in a recent article "Bill to Legalize MMA in New York Out of the Gate Early in the Senate":

To read Klein's full report, please visit The Fight Lawyer Blog


The bill to authorize mixed martial arts in New York, overwhelmingly passed the Senate Standing Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, by a vote of 13-1 on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

Read Justin Klein's full report here
I am happy to report that New York Senate Bill 1707A, i.e. the bill to authorize mixed martial arts in New York, is off to an early start in the Senate Standing Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation.

Specifically, the bill is on the Tourism Committee Agenda for next week.

As you may recall from earlier posts, the bill is sponsored by District 47 Senator, Joseph A. Griffo, of Utica New York and originates in the Tourism Committee.

Last year, although the bill passed the full Senate in mid-June, it was not debated and referred, i.e. passed, out of the Tourism Committee until June--near the end of the legislative session.

For a discussion on what happens after the bill passes the Senate...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Show your support for New York MMA at Radio City Music Hall on March 16th

In advance of the upcoming showdown between Jon Jones and Shogun Rua at UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey, the UFC’s pre-fight press conference will be held at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday, March 16th at 12:30 pm. Admission is free.

The UFC will be giving away "Bring MMA to NY" t-shirts to the first 1,000 fans
, so be there early if you can!

In addition to Jones and Rua, Dana White, Urijah Faber, Eddie Wineland, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Nate Marquardt are all going to be there to help make sure Albany hears our voices loud and clear: New York athletes like Jones should be able to compete in their homestate!

Suuport our sport on Wednesday at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, New York City.