Monday, January 30, 2012

NYS Admits Amateur MMA is Not Banned in New York

Anyone existing in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community in New York State long enough to know what the "Dark Ages" of the late 1990's - early 2000's is, will clearly understand how important this admission is by the State's Attorney General in response to the Zuffa spearheaded Federal suit to overturn the ban.

For those who don't know, debate over amateur MMA has raged on since 1997 when NYS banned live professional MMA. While the law specifically stated that live professional MMA was illegal, amateur had never been addressed in the statute.  However, this did not stop NYS and its draconian athletic commission at the time from proceeding to use a napalm approach to wiping out any and all MMA in NYS.  In reality, they shut down any event that could be considered MMA or might open the door for MMA - amateur or professional.

The end result has been continued confusion and debate over whether amateur MMA is illegal in NYS, and if it was not, why had NYS been doing anything they could to shut amateur shows down. Promoters during the past 15 years have prohibited themselves from promoting lawful amateur events due of the fear of being shut down - unlawfully. Still, other promoters believed, due to NYS's past actions, that amateur MMA was also illegal. This confusion was clearly addressed in Zuffa's suit. For a window into the past and how the ban affected NY area martial arts, check the link at the end of this post.

The other effect this hard line crackdown had in NYS was to bolster the growth of "underground" or more accurately, unsanctioned MMA events. This very history is well documented in Jim Genia's book "Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts."

So, the following excerpt from NYS's motion to dismiss Zuffa's suit, first noted by Genia, will come as welcome news to many New Yorkers:

“Plaintiffs also object to NY Unconsol. Law Sec. 8905-a, because, while it prohibits ‘live professional MMA,’ it is silent as to amateur MMA contests, which ‘undoubtedly occur every day’.  They further claim the statue is ‘vague’ as it is unclear whether the ban applies to amateur MMA exhibitions.  To the extent that it does not ban amateur MMA exhibitions, Plaintiffs assert that the disparate treatment of professional and amateur MMA activities violates the equal protection clause.  This claim, too, is meritless.  The statute’s provision on its face explicitly speaks to ‘professional’ combative sports and does not address amateur sports.  Moreover, while the legislature, in another statute, regulates amateur boxing and wrestling, the legislature has not enacted a provision expressly addressing any amateur martial arts activity.  Accordingly, the statute does not treat amateur MMA bouts any differently from amateur bouts involving traditional martial arts.  And, to the extent that the legislature, with regard to traditional and mixed martial arts, has drawn a distinction between amateur and professional bouts, it hardly needs saying that a rational basis exists for such a distinction.  Moreover, Plaintiffs, themselves, aver in the Complaint that it was not until the statute was enacted that amateur MMA contests began to proliferate.  Plainly, the legislature had a rational basis for explicitly banning professional MMA bouts, but not to address amateur contests.”

Some forgotten New York martial art history:

2002: Lou Neglia kickboxing show shut down

2003: Discussion regarding how the Ban affected Chinese martial arts (San Shou)

2003: Discussion on the state of banned martial arts in NY

2004: IKF News, scroll down to NY news where the ban is disucssed

2009: Jim Genia discusses the dark ages and predicts the admission made by NYS this week that amateur MMA is legal

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