After being banned for 19 years, New York’s State Assembly has finally made MMA legal in the state by voting 113-25 in favor of a bill legalizing the sport. The bill was passed through three Assembly committees with relative ease before coming up to this final vote. New York is the last state in the U.S. to legalize the sport.
In contrast, previous efforts to legalize MMA in the state of New York throughout the years were hit with various roadblocks, with the latest failure being as recent as June 2015. Mixed martial arts had been banned by former Governor George Pataki in 1997, four years after the legendary first Ultimate Fighting Championship event in 1993.
Despite the majority vote, it wasn’t without vocal—but dwindled—opposition. Some of those on the floor who voiced their disapproval include State Assemblyman Charles Barron, who compared MMA to police brutality that has recently been prominent in media. He hinted at the case of Eric Garner’s death due to a chokehold by Staten Island police in 2014.
“You know how we feel about the chokehold in New York City,” he said. “You can put him in a choke hold and the ref has to be determining whether he got choked enough or she got choked enough. This (sport) is not something we should legalize or regulate.”
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick voiced her concern with MMA being a negative influence to children and its stars as examples of the “dumbing down of America.” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy brought up concerns about traumatic brain injury as a major factor in the discussion. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan cited domestic violence and drug issues in the sport, which she described as “shockingly high.”
Then there was Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who is gay. He notably described MMA as “gay porn with a different ending.”
When it was banned in New York, MMA was still largely unregulated with few rules and sanctioning bodies to regulate competition. It was a time when its description as “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain dominated the conversation. Despite this, it was only a matter of time before it could no longer be ignored due to its increasingly rapid growth—both in North America and overseas (especially Japan).
In April 2000, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) voted unanimously in favor of regulations that’s now known as the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which were then adopted by the state athletic commissions of New Jersey and eventually Nevada. The Unified Rules helped MMA become widely accepted as a sport, especially through the world’s biggest MMA promotion.
Nine months after the CSAC approval of MMA regulation, Station Casino executives Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta III founded Zuffa, LLC, which became the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship after it was purchased from Semaphore Entertainment Group. It was bought upon the advice of fight manager Dana White—a childhood friend of Lorenzo Fertitta—upon hearing of Semaphore’s search for a buyer. Within a month, the Fertitta brothers bought the MMA promotion and installed Dana White as its president.
The UFC’s obvious interest in the legalization of MMA in New York may have attracted another opponent in the fight, namely the Fertitta’s longtime nemesis—the Nevada-based Culinary Workers Union. Station Casino is notably non-union, which drew the ire of the union and its parent organization UNITE HERE—a national labor union. UNITE HERE is headquartered in New York City, which meant it held much sway in opposing the UFC’s campaign to have MMA finally legalized in New York.
With this latest development, it’s now likely that fans will be able to finally see MMA in the legendary Madison Square Garden—something that was opposed by a New York federal judge as recently as January of this year.