“It’s Time!” – Professional MMA legalized in New York
Professional sports are undoubtedly a fixture in American society. I would not label myself as a diehard sports fan, but I, along with 64% of U.S. adults,1 watch NFL football on Sundays from September – February, and will attend an occasional basketball game at Madison Square Garden (MSG) or baseball game at Yankee Stadium. When I’m scrolling the channels on my TV after a long day at the law library, I rarely tune in for a sports game. However, there is one sporting event that will stop my endless search: a UFC fight.
Through the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), mixed martial arts (MMA) gained enormous popularity in the states and became mainstream in the mid-2000s2. Beginning in 2005, the UFC stepped outside of the pay-per-view realm by signing a deal with Spike TV, placing the “octagon” in the homes of millions of Americans. After watching countless UFC fights on Spike, I searched online to determine where I could attend a one in my home state of New York. To my astonishment, professional MMA was illegal in New York, and had been since the mid-1990s. But things have changed for 2016, and on November 12, the UFC will hold its first professional fight in New York state at MSG3.
This past March, after years of lobbying efforts and court battles, the New York State Assembly voted on legislation that would legalize professional MMA in New York. The bill, A.2604-C, received bi-partisan support and passed in both the House and Senate. On April 14, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law and made New York the last state to legalize the sport4.
Before its passage, New York law only permitted professional combative sporting events to be held in the state if they were of one specific variety, such as boxing, wrestling, or karate, and since MMA is considered a multi-disciplinary combat sport, it was disallowed.5 The bill amended the existing legislation’s definition of “combative sports” and now provides: “Authorized combative sports include, amateur and professional boxing, wrestling, sparring, kick boxing, single discipline martial arts and mixed martial arts, pursuant to the provisions of this article.”6. The New York State Athletic Commission has been charged with the regulation of professional MMA in the state, a fitting addition to the existing jurisdiction the entity currently holds over professional boxing and wrestling.7 Notably, while the new bill now permits the promotion and holding of professional MMA events, there is still a ban on combative sporting events that are unregulated and “outside the supervision of the [New York State Athletic Commission] or an authorized sanctioning entity.”8 The bill also provides for the establishment of a study to determine potential funding options for the purpose of providing long-term care for fighters who suffer cognitive injuries during their career; an appropriate inclusion considering the impact repeated concussions might have on an individual’s mental health.9
Now that professional MMA has been legalized in the state, New Yorkers will no longer have to trek into the unknown neighboring lands that some refer to as ‘New Jersey’ to attend a UFC fight. In the words of the infamous boxing and UFC announcer Bruce Buffer, “this is the moment UFC fans around the world have been waiting for, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City… It’s TIME!”
S05949, Article 41, §1001↩
S05949, Article 41, §1001↩