It’s a Knockout: New York Lawmakers Legalize MMA

Chris Weidman Getty Images

An eight-year bout pitting a dysfunctional state Legislature against chiseled Mixed Martial Arts fighters came to an end Tuesday when the Assembly approved a bill legalizing the sport in New York State, paving the way for huge paydays at venues like Madison Square Garden.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill, which he’s expected to do, New York will be the last state in the nation to let MMA combatants into the ring. Despite concerns from some lawmakers uncomfortable with the sport’s perceived brutality, the measure’s backers slammed the opponents to the mat, winning by a huge margin, 113-35.

The lengthy and grueling battle notwithstanding, those who make a living in the sport’s premier league, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), were gratified by the legal victory.

“Speaking for myself, I’ve been fighting now for seven years and I’ve been missing out on opportunities to fight in front of my family, friends and fans here in New York,” said Baldwin-native Chris Weidman, the former UFC middleweight title-holder, during a conference call with reporters. “Every year you’re just hopeful… For it to finally happen is a dream come true for me.”

Lindenhurt’s Ryan LaFlare and West Islip’s Chris Wade, both professional UFC fighters, took to Twitter to rejoice over the news:

Long Island’s UFC pros may be chomping at the bit to fight in front of a home crowd but they won’t be stepping into a ring in New York until July or August, at the earliest.

Once Cuomo adds his name to the legislation, a 120-day prohibition period kicks in before a venue can legally host an MMA fight. The New York State Athletic Commission also has to adopt rules to regulate the sport.

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But UFC executives are confident the process will be free of the type of controversy that has made the sport such a hot-button issue in New York.

Lorenzo Feritta, chairman and CEO of UFC, told reporters during the conference call that he expects New York will host at least two events before the end of the year, with New York City, possibly Madison Square Garden or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, at the top of the list.

The second event could take place in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester or Utica, Feritta said.

“The minute that the vote passed our team started calling various arenas and looking at what dates are available,” he told reporters.

The legislature has been wrestling with legalizing the sport for nearly a decade. The State Senate had passed an MMA bill for seven years in a row but the measure never received the support of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a New York City Democrat, who lost his seat after he was found guilty of corruption.

Weidman said on Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” for the lawmakers who had used harsh words when characterizing UFC fighters.

“Some of things that they were saying were so ridiculous that I was actually happy and embarrassed for them for even bringing it up,” he said.

After grappling with whether to legalize MMA for so long, the legislature has now agreed to send it to Cuomo’s desk, where his signature is a near guarantee.

Mark Ratner, senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs for UFC, summed up the mixed emotions felt by many people with a stake in the sport.

“I look back and it was frustrating,” he said, “but today I’m thrilled.”