Thursday, April 19, 2012

UPDATE: Deja Vu All Over Again - NY MMA Update

During the last several weeks, my e-mail in box has been flooded with activity notices regarding Senate legislation S1707A, the bill authorizing professional Mixed Martial Arts in New York State. Anyone paying attention knew that something was brewing. The bill had already passed through the Tourism and Commerce Committees and was included in the Senate's proposed 2013 budget. Yesterday, the legislation passed a full vote of the Senate with an impressive 43-14 outcome (as compared to 42-18 in 2011 and 32-26 in 2010). Additionally, this year's vote pre-dates last year's vote by over a month (last year's vote was on May 23rd), giving us a bit more of a head start to start tackling the real problem: The Assembly.

The issue of the MMA ban in New York has been getting some major press during the last several weeks since the sport's most vocal opponent, Assemblyman Bob Reilly, announced his retirement. Outside of MMA media, stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The NY Post, The Long Island PressThe Ithican, ABC News, The Village Voice, Fox News contributor Steven Crowder produced a video on the topic, I appeared on Fickle 93.3's political talk show "New York State of Mind" and WFUV 90.7FM, Strikeforce Champion Ronda Rousey appeared on WCNY's Capital Pressroom radio, New York based professional fighter Bradley Desir appeared on RNNs Richard French Live, and the Association of Boxing Commissions even spoke up on the issue of MMA regulation in New York. Madison Square Garden hosted the first ever MMA Documentary Film Festival.

Just two days from now, in Atlanta, the UFC Light Heavyweight Title will go on the line between two New Yorkers: Champion Jon Jones (of Ithica) and Former Champion Rashad Evans (of Niagara Falls).

Meanwhile, as a result of Zuffa et al's Federal suit against New York regarding the ban on live professional MMA, the state admitted that amateur MMA is legal; allowing for the first sanctioned MMA event in the state since 2002. The New York Athletic Commission has reportedly been cooperative in this endeavor.

Other cracks in the current combat sport legislation that bans professional MMA have been highlighted by the suit as well. These loopholes have allowed for the combat sports of professional Muay Thai and international rules kickboxing (also subject to the same ban as professional MMA) to take center stage here in New York. On March 16th Madison Square Garden sold over 3,200 tickets to the first ever Mauy Thai event held there. K1, the worlds largest kickboxing promotion has announced it will come to New York City in December.

In spite of all this, the problem of the Assembly still sits ahead of us.

During past years, regardless of clear support within the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver has steadfastly prevented the bill from moving out of committee to the floor for a vote. It has been suggested that Silver's blockage of the legislation stems from his support of the hotel unions currently battling majority UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. In the past Silver has disingenuously claimed "there does not appear to be widespread support in the Assembly for this legislation" or that he will not offer a position on the legislation because his role as Speaker prevents him from doing so publicly.  

Times may be changing slightly, very slightly, as Speaker Silver made this statement subsequent to the Senate's passage of the MMA legislation yesterday:

“I have mixed feelings about it...On the one hand I do believe it’s rather violent and it sets a tone for people. On the other hand, you can turn on the television and see it, a child can see it from their homes on a regular TV and we’re one of the few states that don’t legalize it. Obviously legalization comes with regulation, and we may be better off having regulation.”
Furthermore, Governor Cuomo, who is reportedly opposed to inclusion of MMA sanctioning in the 2013 budget but, supportive of the legislation in private, has failed to take a public position of support on the issue in spite of accepting nearly $100,000 of campaign funds from Zuffa (UFC's parent company) and public pressure to do so; which many believe would encourage Silver to follow suit.

Mid June is the finish line of our race in Albany. Yet, the legislation has still not been put on the agenda of the first Assembly committee through which it must pass; the Parks, Tourism, and Sports Development Committee chaired by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. Markey, like Cuomo, has failed to make any public statement on the issue of MMA in New York.

The Assembly legislation received a small public boost recently when it was announced that Assemblyman Joe Morelle of Rochester would sponsor the bill. Morelle is quietly being considered for Majority Leader next year.

In the end, here we sit waiting for the Assembly like last year and the year before. Support has been strong for MMA in New York in 2012, stronger than ever. Some new factors are at play that change the game a bit. Yet, we find ourselves in the same place, waiting for one or two members of the Assembly to allow the process to move forward. As Sheldon Silver himself said yesterday:

“Members control the process...The bill is in the legislative process at this point. We have a committee-driven process and we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of sentiment for it and there’s a lot of sentiment against it.”
All we want is for the process to be allowed to take place. Silver, please, let it happen.

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

UPDATE 5/7/12: They did not let it happen

Capital Confidential - MMA Bill won't advance in Assembly

The Fight Nerd - New York State Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari still hates MMA despite knowing little about it.

Wall Street Journal - Mixed Martial Arts Bill Won't Get NY Assembly Vote

MMA Junkie - Report: MMA legislation dead again in NY Assembly

MMA Journalist - NY Says No Sanctioned MMA in 2012 - So What!

MMA Fighting - MMA in New York Will Have To Wait Again, as 2012 Bill Stalls Out

NY Daily News - Silvber KOs Legal Ultimate Fighting This Round

MMA Mania - New York MMA Ban Remains, Lawmakers Make 'un-American' Decision in Closed Door Meeting

Fight Opinion - The Cold Hard Truth About Passing NY MMA Legislation