[UFC] Legal at Last
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”) is currently the premier and largest mixed martial arts (“MMA”) promotion company in the world.1. On March 22, 2016, New York became the last state in the Union to legalize MMA events, opening the door for the UFC into NY. Previously, New York Unconsolidated Laws § 8905-a made it a crime to knowingly advance or profit from a combative sport activity.2. This includes anyone promoting or participating in the event, excepting spectators.3.
The New York Legislature enacted the law in 1997, a time when UFC tournaments were advertised as “blood sport,” “fights to the death,” and “no holds barred.”4 The few rules in existence allowed strikes to any part of the body and failed to provide for rounds or rest periods.5. Head butting, elbowing, scratching, and strikes to the throat and groin were acceptable tactics, and no gloves, mouthpieces, or headgear was required.6.
Fast-forward almost 20 years, and the UFC is in a new era. The theme of un-athletic street fighters trying to kill one another in a cage is extinct. Weight-classes, gloves, round structures, and striking restrictions have all been implemented. Olympic wrestlers,7 former amateur and professional boxers,8 world-class martial artists,9. and former professional football players are among those competing in the UFC today.10 Championship matches consist of 5 five-minute rounds with 1-minute rest periods in between each round.11 Doctors and referees constantly monitor the fighters during a bout, and there is often a medical suspension period after a fight, depending on the severity of any injuries.12
In sum, MMA has gone from televised street fighting to a legitimate sport: EA Sports releases UFC video games,13 Reebok sponsor fighters,14 and agents represent fighters.15 The New York Assembly’s decision to legalize MMA events in New York comes as no surprise.
The new sport still presents a number of unknowns, however, that many states could have paid more attention to before legalizing MMA. Competitive boxing has been around for decades, and the effects of repeated head trauma suffered by boxers is well documented.16 But what are the long-term effects for fighters that have spent too much time on their backs getting elbowed and hammer fisted repeatedly in the face and head? How much more brain trauma occurs from being knocked unconscious due to a kick or knee than a punch? Many of the ground fighting techniques adopted from Jiu Jitsu are designed to cut off the supply of blood to the brain by compressing major arteries in the neck. Surprisingly, fighters do not face a significant risk of brain damage from this, because it takes several minutes of lack of blood flow to the brain to cause permanent damage,17 and no referee or training partner would allow a choke to last this long.
The first UFC champions are barely fifty.18 And during their reign, the fighting styles were not as well integrated as they are today. Only recently has the sport churned out fighters that are equally dangerous on their feet and off their back. The long-term effects of MMA on a 2016 teenager, who pursues a career fighting in the UFC, and endures being punched, kicked, elbowed, and choked unconscious for 10 years is a huge unknown.
Zuffa, LLC v. Schneiderman, No. 15-CV-7624 (KMW), 2016 WL 311298, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 2016).↩
N.Y. Unconsol. Law § 8905-a (McKinney).↩
Supra note 1, at *1-*2.↩
Jon JONES, Gina Carano, Frankie Edgar, Matt Hamill, Brian Stann, Zuffa, LLC d/b/a Ultimate Fighting Championship, Don Lilly, Shannon Miller, Danielle Hobeika, Beth Hurrle, Donna Hurrle, Steve Kardian, Joseph Lozito, Erik Owings, Chris Reitz, and Jennifer Santiago, Plaintiffs, v. Eric T. SCHNEIDERMAN, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of New York, Defendant., 2012 WL 10731486 (S.D.N.Y.).↩
Daniel Cormier Official UFC Fighter Profile, http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Daniel-Cormier?id= (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/QST8-NTUT].↩
KJ Noons Official UFC Fighter Profile, http://www.ufc.com/fighter/KJ-Noons?id= (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/QXP7-AT8M].↩
Stephen Thompson Official UFC Fighter Profile, http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Stephen-Thompson (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/Q2YA-EFD7].↩
Matt Mitrione Official UFC Fighter Profile, http://www.ufc.com/fighter/matt-Mitrione (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/BCM9-JSDZ].↩
Unified Rules and Other MMA Regulations, http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/68DT-S9HF].↩
EA Sports UFC 2, https://www.easports.com/ufc (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/4Y58-DXQP].↩
Jesse Holland, Reebok has a Message for Sponsorship Haters: UFC Decides how Fighters are Paid, not us, MMA MANIA (Oct. 26, 2015), http://www.mmamania.com/2015/10/26/9616682/reebok-has-message-sponsorship-haters-ufc-decides-how-fighters-paid-not-us-mma[https://perma.cc/3JZY-6H73].↩
First Round Management, http://www.firstroundmanagement.com/about (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/AN7Z-6YU9].↩
Dr. Barry D. Jordan, Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury Associated with Boxing, MEDSCAPE, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/410861 (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/BLV5-NZA7].↩
Dr. Johnny Benjamin, Ask the Fight Doc: Is brain damage possible when chokes are held too long?, MMA JUNKIE (July 12, 2011), http://mmajunkie.com/2011/07/ask-the-fight-doc-is-brain-damage-possible-when-chokes-are-held-too-long.↩
Royce Gracie Official UFC Fighter Profile, http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Royce-Gracie?id= (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/P8KS-SSKC]; 2015 HOF Profile: Bas Rutten, http://www.ufc.com/news/2015-HOF-Profile-Bas-Rutten (last visited March 24, 2016)[https://perma.cc/RN2P-Q84E].↩