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New York State Legalizes Mixed Martial Arts

Mark Lennihan

New York State became the last state in the nation to legalize mixed martial arts (MMA), following a 113-25 vote in the Assembly on Tuesday. The bill was placed on the floor for a vote after a majority of Democrats backed the legislation.

During debate on the Assembly floor, opponents urged the state to continue the ban on mixed martial arts, also known as ultimate fighting. Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe (D-Suffern), from the Hudson Valley, says the activity is “sanctioning violence for profit” and has no place in New York.

“Except for those who stand to profit from this barbaric entertainment masquerading as a sport, cage fighting causes great harm,” said Jaffe, who says fighters are “often maimed or sometimes killed” in matches.

Opponents argue that there’s growing data on the potential dangers of concussions in football, and head injuries caused by boxing, and urged their colleagues to wait before approving the sport.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, compared it to pornography.

“You have two nearly naked hot men, rolling around on top of one another, trying to dominate each other,” O’Donnell said. “That’s gay porn with a different ending.”

But backers say the time has come to legalize a sport that’s perfectly OK to practice in every other state.

Bill sponsor and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit) says he’s become a supporter, after initially opposing MMA, saying other sports that have been played for decades are also violent, like football, hockey and basketball.

“In fact most competitive sports, from pole vaulting to race car driving, carry a degree of risks and danger,” said Morelle. “It is the responsibly and duty of policymakers to create a framework where the risks are mitigated.”

Morelle says the fighting competitions are already happening underground in New York anyway. He says regulating the sport will be much safer for everyone involved. The bill would help provide health insurance for the participants, including coverage for neurological testing.

“What we seek to do here is to essentially take the sports out of the shadows,” Morelle said.

Governor Cuomo spoke in favor of mixed martial arts during an event in Niagara Falls. He says he understands some people object to the violence, and he agrees with Morelle that other sports are violent too.

“Boxing is violent,” Cuomo said. “Politics can be violent.”

Legalizing mixed martial arts will also provide money for the state. Cuomo has already included $1 million in anticipated revenue in his state budget plan from taxes imposed on the fights. The governor calls it an “economic generator,” and says fighting contests will draw people from other states and Canada.

Even with the new law, no mixed martial arts matches can be held in New York legally for at least six more months.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.