Thursday, December 31, 2015

Markey Gets Cold Feet and Inside MMA Was There to Cover the Story

Opponent to regulated MMA in New York, Assemblywoman Margret Markey - Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development - cancelled her own scheduled December 11th public hearing on combat sports injuries in New York State with only days notice, and no justification given. According to the hearing's original announcement:
The New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) is authorized to regulate professional boxing and wrestling, which includes, but is not limited to, establishing medical and safety rules and regulations. If legalized in New York State, the sport of mixed martial arts would likely be regulated by NYSAC. 
The purpose of this hearing is to ascertain the frequency and severity of injuries suffered by professional boxers, wrestlers, mixed martial arts fighters and other combative sports participants. In addition, this hearing would review current safety and medical protocols in order to determine if there are areas in need of improvement which would benefit and protect the welfare of these professional athletes.
Apparently, Markey had a case of cold feet when it became clear not enough people would testify against regulating MMA in New York.
Despite the Assemblywoman's apparent desire NOT to hear from her constituents on the issue, the UFC spearheaded rally that was to precede the hearing went on full steam ahead, with assistance from our coalition, right in front of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's Manhattan office...and AXS TV's Inside MMA was there to cover the story:

Will 2016 be the year for NY MMA? Time will tell, but there are lots of moving parts in our favor, not the least of which is a newly ratified and comprehensive bill that addresses each and every aspect of the opposition's argument against the sport. The legislation is set to hit the ground running once the legislative calendar opens next year. After a very close battle this year, Assembly supporters of regulated MMA in NY plan to push the issue early in 2016. With the UFC actively planning an event at Madison Square Garden for April, the Federal lawsuit still in play, and an opposition that is losing steam, our ducks are lining up in a nice row for a potentially exciting new year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December 11th NY MMA Rally and public hearing in Manhattan! Please be there!

We have done it before and I am asking you to do it again! On December 11th, the State Assembly is holding a public hearing regarding injuries and combat sports in New York - including Boxing, Kickboxing and MMA. This hearing will be a major factor in our 2016 fight for legal professional MMA in NY! The hearing is PUBLIC and we are planning a rally to gather outside the hearing location at 9:30am (in Manhattan) before the hearing starts at 10:30am.

As close as we came last year, the new and improved bill we have awaiting to hit the ground running next year, and the the fact that the battle is starting this early in the game for 2016 is a great sign for us.

It is IMPORTANT that we make a good showing at this rally! PLEASE take some time to come and show your support for the sport we love. I know it gets frustrating year after year, but change in Albany happens at a snails pace. Let's keep pushing and make 2016 the year. That will start with a strong continued push in 2015!

When: Friday, December 11, 2015 at 9:30am
Where: 250 Broadway, in Manhattan. Right outside of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office.

You can expect all the usual rally activities including signs, chants and speakers. Check out our 2011 and 2012 rally vids. I KNOW WE CAN TOP THIS!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

No MMA in 2015: Heastie Shows His True Colors

Fear not New Yorkers! At the conclusion of the New York legislative calendar, our state now has a Chicken Wing Day, a state amphibian (the wood frog), horse racing is now legal on Palm Sunday, and you can bring your pet dog to your favorite outdoor cafe! But, mixed martial arts still remains unregulated for our amateurs and completely banned for our professionals.

After what may have been the largest rallying of support by the MMA community we have ever seen in NY, newly minted Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie fails to move the the combat sports bill forward for a vote. Once again, the bill that could have brought regulated MMA (and other amateur combat sports like kickboxing) to New York dies without ever being voted upon by our elected representatives. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that A02604 is an extremely progressive bill, which could have had positive trend setting implications for the sport as a whole.

Nevertheless, despite passing in the Senate twice (both the original and amended versions of the legislation), apparent support by Governor Cuomo and a vast majority of support in the Assembly, Heastie demonstrated that he was very willing to sacrifice the health and safety of New York athletes by choosing not to rise above the disingenuous partisan politics enacted by his predecessor. In the end, as a past co-sponsor of the New York MMA bill, Heastie proved himself to be worse than Sheldon Silver. At least with Silver, we knew where we stood. Heastie was a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This May, 2015 letter I received from Heastie's office was more prophetic than it seemed:

Since 2012 at least five amateur combat sports athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated amateur MMA and kickboxing events nationally. Let's not forget about the dozen or so amateur MMA fighters & kickboxers who have been able to fight in New York's unregulated amateur circuit despite having been suspended from competition by other state athletic commissions for HIV, Hepatitis, and other prohibitive medical conditions.

Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports sums it up perfectly:
Thus, it's going to be at least another year until there is a legal MMA card in New York.
There may be several hundred illegal* ones, though, and without adequate regulation and medical care someone could be seriously injured. If that happens – and I pray to God that it doesn't – the person's blood will be on the hands of the governor, the legislators and everyone else who worked to block this bill's passage.
*There will likely not be hundreds of illegal MMA events in NY as amateur events are legal and pro does not exist in NY, except rarely on Native land. There are however, many unregulated by the state athletic commission - fifty four in 2014. Still, Iole's point remains frightening accurate.

For a breakdown of what went right and wrong with this year's round of fighting, check out this piece by Jim Genia.

I leave you with a small fraction from the last week on that modern day ticker tape that is twitter:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It Is Not Over Yet: There Is No Time For Complacency In The Final Hours!

We are literally down to the wire with the new amended MMA bill A02604. To catch you up since my last post regarding the Assembly's new amended bill, on June 14th both the Assembly and Senate have revised their bill with matching amendments. You can read the latest version of the bill here.

Yesterday, the Senate voted on and passed their new amended version of the bill by a 49-13 majority. Officially on the Assembly's calendar, today is their final session day; though they will likely extend their session through the week to tie up all loose ends. We are literally down to the wire with this. Events are seemingly happening by the minute. To keep up to date, minute by minute I highly suggest you follow MMA Journalist, Jim Genia. He is literally on top of each and every bit of news that comes out, as it comes out.

Runor has it that we have the required Democratic Assembly votes to pass A02604 (if you are wondering why I specify "Democratic", read my last blog post). However, this is New York and politics is never cut and dry, and often completely illogical. Yes, we are closer than we have ever been, but that is more reason to continue contacting you Assembly members, the Governor and the Assembly Speaker to request their support of A02604. We are in the home stretch and we can't get complacent!

Here is the info you need to contact everyone:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Bronx Office: 718-654-6539
Albany Office: 518-455-3791

Governor Andrew Cuomo
E-mail the Governor HERE
Albany Office: 1-518-474-8390

Find your local Assembly Member contact information HERE

If we play our cards right, we will be celebrating the arrival of regulated MMA to New York by week's end, but let's keep the ball rolling: It is not over yet!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York MMA: A Fist Full of Holdouts

Not since 2010 when I formed the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York have I felt more optimistic about the prospects for getting MMA properly regulated in New York. In fact, for the first time in five years I believe we can see concrete positive results of all the planning, lobbying, meetings with members of our legislature, interviews, social media campaigns, articles, editorials, rallies, etc. After years of hard work, on behalf of many people across our state, this year we are ridiculously close to getting what we want. The finish line is only a few steps away. We literally have only days left (Wednesday is the end of the legislative calendar) to put the new and vastly improved Assembly bill A02604 to the floor for a vote.

For years those who oppose bringing regulated MMA to New York have expressed concerns about the health and safety of our athletes. When one boils down the battle for MMA in New York and strains out the disingenuous oppositions and unrelated political curds that have plagued this process for years, the most credible, important and relevant concern left in the pot is indeed the health and safety of our New York athletes. There is nothing more important than the safety of our athletes; not the money, not the job growth, not the ticket sales, nothing.

This year it came to light that the initial version of Assembly bill A02604, essentially the same bill that has passed the Senate for the past six years, inadvertently banned the now booming New York amateur MMA scene; a move that would essentially force thousands of fighters back to the illegal world underground fighting. While dissecting the bill, journalist Jim Genia identified language in the bill that, if passed, set the stage for the regulation of professional MMA, but banned amateur MMA simultaneously. This set into motion a movement on behalf of the New York MMA community, the likes of which I have rarely seen. Of course we wanted regulated professional MMA in New York, but we did not want to lose our growing amateur circuit and compromise their health and safety.

Read my April 30th open letter to the Assembly on this topic 

The unregulated "wild west" nature of amateur MMA has long been a concern in New York, but not a focus of past attempts at legislation. None of the bills in years past have addressed the needs of our amateurs; it was always about the professional athletes. This year's bill put amateurs on the chopping block and was enough to generate a call to action that ironically put the pro-MMA and anti-MMA crowds on the same side - fighting for the safety of ALL our New York athletes.

All across New York coaches, regulators, fighters and fans reached out to their legislators. The message was clear: We want MMA in New York, but we want safe regulated MMA for our professionals AND amateurs - amend the bill if you want our support. As an example, here are the Coalition memos we shared at meetings with our Assembly Members:

Similar e-mails, letters, tweets, phone calls and memos went out to Assembly Members across New York from our community. It seemed for once that actual concerns were being discussed, rather than the usual anti-Zuffa union soundbites that we New Yorkers were used to. Still, we are used to feeling neglected in New York politics. After years of disappointment, hope was a feeling we dared not entertain. In all the years of running the New York MMA hamster wheel, we had become accustomed to feeling unable to effectively participate in the process. But, this year was a perfect storm of sorts. The opposition and the supporters of MMA wanted some of the same things: and people listened!

Assembly Majority Leader and primary sponsor of A02604 Joe Morelle announced last week that the bill had been amended. Here is a copy of his Assembly memo outlining the bill's changes from just days ago:

The new version of A02604 is a progressive document that truly addresses the short and long term safety needs of our athletes and effectively raises the bar on how MMA can and should be regulated (the bill can be read in its entirely here). Additionally, you can listen to Jim Genia discussing the new bill and current state of things on MMA Payout. Word on the street is the the Senate will agree to amend their version of the bill and that the Governor is throwing his weight behind this new bill as well.

So we have a revamped bill that sets a new standard with regard to safety measures for our athletes, provides for New York State Athletic Commission oversight of both professional and amateur MMA, and revamps the current outdated combat sports law in numerous important and significant ways. After years of hard work, we have essentially gotten pretty much everything we and the opposition wanted in a new bill. So why are we still pushing for a vote on the bill? This should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, we are still fighting because the Assembly majority is still about 4 votes short of the 76 Democratic votes we need to pass the bill. Convention in the Democrat controlled Assembly is that a bill must be able to pass with only Democrat votes. If that sounds contrary to how our system is supposed to function, that is because it is. The Democrat controlled Assembly does not want to depend on Republican votes to pass a bill; effectively neutering all the pro-MMA constituents in Republican controlled districts. This leaves us with three possible outcomes:

First, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (who was a prior co-sponsor of the bill in years past) could send the bill to the floor for a vote regardless. In this case, the bill will surely pass in a bi-partisan fashion and we will finally have regulated pro AND amateur MMA in New York for the first time since 1997. There are plenty of Republican votes to make up for the few missing Democrat votes.

Second, we can (and most definitely should!) give a last hard push to the hold out Democrats who are still undecided regarding this bill. In my opinion, any member of the opposition who does not stand behind this amended bill is acting out of pure disingenuous self-interest. Here, quoting from Jim Genia's blog, are the Assembly members in question. Contact them and let them know where you stand:

These two guys are VERY close to voting in favor of the MMA bill, so definitely go at them hard: 
-Assemblyman Steve Otis, Westchester -, 914-939-7028 and 518-455-4897 
-Assemblyman James Skoufis, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-469-6929 and 518-455-5441 
Here are the rest of the undecideds: 
-Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Queens -, 718-457-3615 and 518-455-4561 
-Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, Queens -, 718-479-2333 and 518-455-4711 
-Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Buffalo -, 716-885-9630 and 518-455-4886 
-Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Brooklyn -, 718-771-3105 and 518-455-5262 
-Assemblyman Charles Barron, Brooklyn -, 718-257-5824 and 518-455-5912 
-Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-454-1703 and 518-455-5177 
-Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, Albany -, 518-455-4178 
-Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh, Manhattan -, 212-979-9696 and 518-455-5506

The final and unfortunate third possibility is that once again we do not achieve 76 Democratic votes AND Assembly Speaker Heastie does not put the bill to the floor for a bi-partisan vote. In this case, we are left once again waiting to start the fight over in January; albeit with a fantastic new bill from which to begin the fight anew. We have spent years waiting for this moment: A new progressive bill with an MMA supporter in the Speaker's seat. Will that be enough? Or will it be New York Politics as usual?

We will know by Wednesday.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Open Letter to the Assembly Regarding MMA in NY

Dear Assembly Member,

I am writing in regard to the Mixed Martial Arts bill (A02604), which is currently being considered in the Assembly.

I am a the founder of the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY, which represents fans, students, athletes and coaches of Mixed Martial Arts in New York State. We fully support the regulation of professional and amateur MMA. Since 2009 we have played an active roll in educating the public as well as our legislators regarding the sport of MMA and why it is critical that it be regulated in NYS. We have worked directly with Association of Boxing Commission trainers to educate our state's amateur MMA officials, athletes and coaches. We have even produced an acclaimed documentary called New York MMA, which is now available on Hulu. I believe this short film would be a great introduction for you as to who we are, as well as an educational piece regarding the sport of MMA.

As we are at a critical moment regarding MMA in New York, I wanted to speak to you and stress our belief that A02604 as currently written is inadvertently placing New York's amateur athletes at a higher health and safety risk by forcing them to either turn professional or not compete at all. This will essentially force many (in my estimation most) athletes and promoters back to the underground unregulated fight scene; which we clearly do not support.

As we have seen in Washington this week, poorly regulated fights can have very serious consequences. In fact, Since 2012, five amateur combat sport athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated events nationwide (none in New York). Here is my editorial regarding the desperate need for a higher standard of amateur MMA regulation, not just in NY, but nationwide.

We in New York have a rare opportunity to lead by example - to raise the bar and protect our amateur athletes. To ignore this issue in A02604, as it is currently written, would be negligent.

In 2014 there were a total of 54 amateur MMA events in NYS (functioning under a wide spectrum of third party regulation, or none at all). Each event had approximately 15 bouts, or 30 athletes. That totals approximately 1,620 athletes (not accounting for athletes who fought more than once). This is nearly double the amount of 2013 events. When one does the math we see that this community is very large; as with most sports, much larger than New York's professional MMA community. To not account for the safety of our amateurs, and only focus on the regulation of professional, we are throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Additionally, aside from sacrificing the safety of our amateur athletes by pushing them back to the underground as the current bill would do, we believe NY will be sacrificing significant revenue by not providing for Athletic Commission regulation of amateur MMA in the bill. Consider the possible revenue if these 1,000+ amateurs had to acquire an annual $35 Association of Boxing Commissions license, paid to the NY athletic commission (as they do in NJ, PA, etc). We are looking at very significant numbers and we have not even considered promoters licenses, seconds licenses, venue rentals, medical staff, hotel, food, travel and other aspects which surround the very large NY amateur MMA circuit.

Importantly, amateur MMA will directly benefit local communities. Large professional events like the UFC (who we wholeheartedly want in NY) will take place in large cities and do not provide direct economic impact to smaller NY communities. Amateur MMA events will provide direct economic impact to the local communities that host them.

It is clear that the definition of amateur as laid out in this bill is incongruous with the norm in amateur sports. A02604 defines an amateur MMA event as any event which simply charges admission for spectators. By this standard, no single amateur wrestling, basketball, football or boxing event in NY would be considered amateur. This is an unrealistic definition which holds MMA to a much different standard than all other amateur sports. Under this definition athletes and promoters will be forced to either turn professional, quit or go underground as in the past.

We absolutely want professional MMA in New York and have been fighting for it for quite some time. However, we believe that sacrificing our amateurs to do so is not the correct path. We are strongly urging that portions of this bill be ratified to allow for New York State Athletic Commission (or an approved, qualified proxy) oversight of amateur MMA if it is to move forward. Let's protect our professionals and amateurs equally.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I were to neglect mentioning of our community's concern over the extremely broad language in the bill regarding how "Gyms, Clubs and Training Camps" will be regulated. Not only is the definition of what consists of an "MMA Gym, Club or Training Camp" poorly defined (and determined in large part by the bill's very broad definition of what an amateur MMA event consists of), the level and scope of the regulation to be placed on these gyms is equally vague. We would like to see greater definition with regard to this issue. Here is one editorial on the matter.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York
Producer, New York MMA

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sports Should Serve To Bring People Together

The opposition to NY MMA has reached new low. As reported in today's Daily News:
The fight against mixed martial arts has escalated, with a group of prominent New York Jewish leaders saying that legalizing the controversial sport could benefit a major anti-Israel force. 
The group has penned a letter to “friends of the Jewish community” that will go to state lawmakers and run in Jewish publications highlighting the fact that the Abu Dhabi government owns a 10% stake in the sport’s biggest league — the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 
Abu Dhabi is part of the United Arab Emirates, which the Anti-Defamation League ranked as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world, the letter says.
The Daily News piece continues:
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot stand by while Albany cuts a deal with a company whose profits will go directly into the hands of an enemy of Israel,” the letter says. “It is our hope that New York will continue its proud tradition as a staunch friend to the Jewish community by rejecting the legalization of mixed martial arts and saying no to a company and country that is clearly no friend of Israel.”
The opposition is clearly grasping at straws if they need to bring global religiopolitical issues into this. I am reminded of the great Fedor Emilianenko years back when asked at an interview (at 7:36 of the linked video) about US-Russia relations and his role as a Russian athlete competing in America. His is reply was spot on: "Sport is not politics. Any sport should serve to bring people together."

To infect international sports, in New York's case MMA, with racial politics is desperate, divisive and opportunistic to say the least. we should keep such politics out of sports. Secondly, the UFC is not MMA! Once again the opposition to our sport will throw the baby out with the bathwater; demonstrating they are anti-UFC, not anti MMA. The vast majority of the New York MMA community has nothing to do with UFC. As with most sports, only a small percentage of athletes and coaches will rise to that professional level. Furthermore, the opposition acts as if the UFC is not yet available in NY, which it clearly is in the form of internet and television viewership.

So, to all my readers - Please contact your Assembly member as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and respectfully inform them that such politics has no place in sports or in New York. Let them know we need to ratify Assembly bill A02604 to allow for regulation of amateur AND professional mixed martial arts in NY! If you are not a native New Yorkers please contact the office of Assembly Speaker Heastie and respectfully let him know you would visit our state to watch live MMA or bring your fighters and teams to compete here!

Contact Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie here:

District Office
1446 East Gun Hill Road
Bronx, NY 10469
Fax: 718-654-5836
District Office Directions

Albany Office
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248
Fax: 518-455-5459
Albany Office Directions

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Community of Athletes in Exile...Still?

In 2011 when The Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY premiered its documentary New York Mixed Martial Arts at the Bronx Week Film Festival to a sold out crowd, we could not have imagined MMA would still be banned in New York five years later. Our intent was not to make a political film, but to make an educational film that introduced viewers to our community. The opposition to MMA in New York ignorantly paints us as violent, misogynistic and uneducated animals who have no place in New York’s society - that we need saving from ourselves.

After viewing the film, acclaimed director Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace, Fightville) wrote:
“Anyone who cares about the future of MMA in New York State needs to watch this eye-opening film to discover who and what is keeping MMA out of Madison Square Garden. Beyond the politics, however, this is a moving portrait of athletes in exile - men and women who are forbidden to engage in the sport they love in their own city.”

Since that time, as a direct result of the constitutional lawsuit against New York on behalf of Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC) and several other plaintiffs, amateur MMA once again became a legally viable option for our athletes for the first time in a decade. Granted, as dictated by the current legislation, the amateur version of our sport is not regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission; and there have certainly been concerns regarding the lack of ubiquitous health and safety standards in third party bodies who have stepped in to fill the commission’s shoes. Nevertheless, the situation for amateurs in New York now is a far cry from the unregulated underground days of MMA in our state just a few years ago. Though there is still work to be done, it is a step in the right direction.  

Sadly, with regard to professionals, as state after state lifted their antiquated prohibitions, New York continued to lag behind. Year after year we would come close, get excited and hope that “this would be the year.” The Senate would pass the legislation; polls would demonstrate NewYorkers wanted professional MMA; Assembly committees would pass the legislation forward…only to be blocked by Sheldon Silver who, who as Assembly Speaker and an opponent of regulated MMA, would stop the bill in its tracks. So, while our amateurs had experienced a breath of new life, our professionals have remained, as Michael Tucker aptly noted: “a community of athletes in exile – men and women who are forbidden to engage in the sport they love.”

It has been quite a while since I posted about the effort to regulate professional MMA in New York. I apologize for the long delay and am thankful for all my readers who have reached out to ask where I have been. I am sure you can imagine how the hamster wheel that is the battle for regulated professional MMA in our state can facilitate apathy. I believe the entire New York MMA community feels it. Admittedly, I have become victim to this as well; preferring to focus a bit more on issues surrounding improvement in regulation of the amateur version of our beloved sport; which we thankfully do have in New York now.

After Albany’s failure to pass legislation outlining regulation of professional MMA in 2014, I had pretty much decided to hang up my gloves in this fight; or at least take a back seat. Years of getting involved, pushing letter writing campaigns, social media campaigns, organizing rallies, doing interviews, lobbying legislators, working with our supporters in Albany, writing stories, even producing a documentary seemed to have little effect on the political tide against us. It was harder and harder to get support in my efforts. People were tired of losing; tired of feeling unrepresented in Albany. Imagine a community of fighters feeling that powerless?

Please don’t misunderstand me; the New York MMA community is a strong one, a vibrant one and a virtuous one. The community has rallied around our amateur ranks with skyrocking numbers of regulated shows year after year. We even had our first amateur MMA event at none other than Madison Square Garden! We have made efforts to take care of the health and welfare of our fellow community members. For example, Live to Fight is a non-profit created by our community for our community that fights “relentlessly for those in the martial arts, mixed martial arts, and combat sports community who are suffering from life threatening illnesses.”

Regarding professional MMA, we have made our voices clear over and over again, and have fought for what we want:

Nevertheless, like Sisyphus’ eternal damnation to push a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down to the valley floor after all his efforts, we New Yorkers have begun to feel powerless against the self-interested power brokers who knew nothing about us and did not care to learn. We knew that we were a virtuous community, no matter how the opposition portrayed us. As philosopher Damon Young notes in his 2011 Daily News Op-Ed piece “Legalizing mixed martial arts in New York should not be a steel cage match:” 
“The physical virtues are obvious. Competitors must be strong, fast and agile. They have a sprinter's lungs, a weightlifter's shoulders and a gymnast's legs - all while keeping their dukes up. They move decisively from boxing to Judo to wrestling, often while coping with pain, exhaustion and pressure. They show the human body at its most swift and robust. 
There are also ethical virtues. To compete in MMA requires courage. Cowardice or foolhardiness won't do. Fighters must face danger with diligence and skill. 
Another virtue is restraint: You commit to a forceful punch or tight lock, but walk away once the fight is won. MMA thrives on mutual trust and cooperation. 
Generosity is also encouraged. The best fighters, like Canadian George Saint-Pierre, are upfront about their own talent - and their opponents'. They neither gush with praise nor withhold it. To win, they must recognize passion, skill and willpower when they see them. Pettiness is no aid. 
Temperance is another virtue: keeping one's body healthy. Anger and brute strength are not enough to win. MMA requires meticulousness in eating and drinking, as well as patience in training. If only more Americans had the fighter's disdain for sodas and snacks. 
Not every fighter exemplifies these traits. There are unfit, cruel, egotistical fighters - just as there are such athletes in every sport. Still, MMA encourages bona fide virtues.”

Then, what seemed a miracle occurred this year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on corruption charges and replaced by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, himself a past co-sponsor of the Assembly MMA bill. Could this be the moment we have been waiting for? Would we finally get professional MMA in New York? Would our now thriving amateur community have a professional outlet to continue on in their careers?

With their stop-gap Sheldon Silver gone, the opposition has been clearly rattled and pushed their message louder than ever before. This brutal and misogynistic sport must not be allowed in our state! Editorial letters began to appear in local papers; like this one in the Albany Times Union:
“We find it unfortunate that mixed martial arts, previously called ultimate fighting, may soon be legalized in New York now that Sheldon Silver is no longer able to prevent a vote on it as speaker of the Assembly ("MMA support strengthens," March 4). 
Why do we need another form of fighting, when we already have so many forms of violence on television, in movies and in video games? A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in January 2014 concluded that "Notwithstanding the paucity of data, the injury incidence in MMA appears to be greater than in most, if not all, other popular and commonly practiced combat sports." They also state that the most commonly injured body area is the head (66.8 percent to 78 percent of reported injuries). 
After learning in the last few years about the risk of concussions for football players, do we want another sport with these injuries? The recent news article shows that the main interest of advocates is the dollar sign. They tout the money to be made in fights, but don't discuss possible injuries of the fighters.
We are proud to live in the only state in the nation that has not legalized MMA. This is not an activity that we need in New York. We hope that others will agree and contact their legislators, telling them to say "no" to this so-called sport. 
Ann and David Brandon”
As harsh as this letter may seem, we know that this is a minority view in New York. We also know (though the Brandon’s neglected to mention this) that the “paucity” of data used in that 2014 study has been questioned with regard to its ability to be generalized. Furthermore, the authors of the study themselves note “More epidemiologic research is urgently needed to improve the accuracy of the injury incidence estimate, to determine the injury severity, and to identify more risk factors for injury in MMA.”

Ask and you shall receive. A January 2015 study, Professional Fighters Brain Health Study, has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a review of which notes that after a 5 year study of 244 professional fighters cumulative brain damage, “Boxing is more dangerous than martial arts:”
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their focus on the head, the boxers in the study generally fared worse than the martial arts combatants, irrespective of age. They showed smaller volumes in the scanned regions of the brain and gave slower mental performances. 
If you want a combat sport that's less likely to cause brain damage, martial arts are better than boxing because they're not so focused on concussing the opponent.

"Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that boxers get hit in the head more," the authors suggest. "In addition to trying to concuss (i.e., knockout) their opponent, martial arts fighters can utilise other combat skills such as wrestling and jiu-jitsu to win their match by submission, without causing a concussion."
It seems a no-brainer that regulated MMA, both professional and amateur, is safer than an unregulated version of the sport; and MMA is clearly safer than boxing with regard to head trauma (not that head trauma does not exist in MMA), yet we still seem to have to point this point this out to our opponents. It also seems a no-brainer that we should not have to explain why MMA is empowering to women.

Regardless of whether the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence says we "contribute to a culture of violence against women" or the New York City Chapter of the National Organization for Women suggests “the issue of violence against women stands out as blight on our society, and nowhere is that violence more disturbingly displayed than in mixed martial arts culture,” we know the opposite is true. We know that MMA can bolster strength, autonomy and self-empowerment of women.

UFC Bantamweight Champion and fan favorite Ronda Rousey clearly doesn’t buy it. She lobbied in Albany this past week to make it clear that she believes MMA belongs in New York. On this very blog Beth Hurrle of The Gals Guide to MMA noted:
“I am trying to understand how a group that tries to stop violence can speak out against a sport that takes active steps to help kids protect themselves against bullying. They also completely ignore the countless women who have taken martial arts classes after being the victim of violence or to keep themselves from being victims of violence. People who practice mixed martial arts learn respect, self control and discipline. These are not virtues that you can associate with a man who beats and sexually assaults women.”
In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan, female MMA fighter L.A. Gennings notes:
“People who wanted to keep women out said they were trying to protect women's bodies — but I want to be in charge of my own body. The idea of men being violent and women being passive are social constructs. Fighting is no more masculine than parenting is feminine.”
Anyone who believes mixed martial arts serves to do anything other than bolster independence, equality and challenge female stereotypes needs to watch this piece on Malaysia’s first female professional MMA fighter.

So, things are looking great here in NY. We have a thriving amateur community, the Senate has passed the bill to regulate professional MMA and we have a past supporter of regulated MMA in the Assembly Speaker’s seat. The opposition is looking foolish as they unsuccessfully struggle to paint us as animals. We are in the home stretch. What could go wrong?

Well, this is New York after all and politics here never quite seems to add up logically. A detailed review by MMA Journalist Jim Genia of the MMA bill that recently passed in the Senate and is headed up the chain in the Assembly, reveals a troubling bit of news: if the current bill is passed in the Assembly as is, we will have to completely scrap amateur MMA in order to get professional MMA.

Yes, you heard me. The bill outlining regulatory requirements for professional MMA has also ratified the sections of the current law that allow for amateur MMA; effectively killing amateur MMA in New York by prohibiting both the New York State Athletic Commission and third party sanctioning bodies from regulating the amateur version of our sport. I suggest everyone read Jim’s breakdown to understand just how silly this is.

I know…I know. It sounds ridiculous. Let’s wipe out the amateur leagues which will feed the new professional leagues we are about to legalize. Let’s put measures in place that will force amateur MMA fighters back to unsafe unregulated underground fights. Let’s sacrifice the health and safety of the much larger amateur MMA community for the much smaller professional community. But, it is true. This is happening.

As fast as things are moving, the bill has not passed in the Assembly yet. Some minor changes in language could fix this problem all together. Jim Genia has some concrete suggestions with regard to how we can address this. Check out his piece: How to Fix a Bill: New York MMA Edition.

Fixing this involves YOUR HELP. I want professional MMA in New York as much as anyone. I think that much is clear. We are so close, closer than we have ever been. After years of fighting for this we deserve it. But, I do not want professional MMA if it will force all our amateurs back into the underground. If you want regulated professional and amateur MMA in New York, now is your time to speak up. Now is the time to contact your local Assembly member. Now is the time to demand the bill be ratified to allow for regulation of amateur MMA by the New York State Athletic Commission, or its proxy. As Jim says in his post:
“When a bill is wending its way through the legislature, it's a malleable thing, and subject to a multitude of changes that can come at any time in the process. And though the Senate-approved bill - S02159 - is a done deal, the Assembly version, A02604, is still a work in progress, and changes to A02604 would mean changes to S02159 (remember: bills are linked, and melded into one when they're presented to the governor to sign).”
At the end of 2015 will our New York MMA community, our entire community still be in exile? Time will tell, but now is your chance to make a difference. Pick up the phone and make the call. Let’s move the whole New York MMA community out of the underground.

Stephen Koepfer
Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York