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