Questionable Backroom Move Spikes Legalizing Of NY MMA Once More

Ronda Rousey at the New York Capitol lobbying for MMA legalization in that state. Photo via her Twitter.

Assemblyman Dean Murray: MMA Would Get More Yes Votes Than Same Sex Marriage

The efforts of the UFC and other Zuffa employees towards legalizing mixed martial arts in New York has become a folly nearly on the level of Don Quixote trying to right all wrongs in the world. Whirlwind media tours with likable, intelligent and famous champions like Jon Jones, Frankie Edgar and Ronda Rousey, all with strong ties to New York, get the right headlines and create tons of good will. Friendly words are exchanged, offices visited, smiling photos taken and people all over New York perk up at the novelty and star power of the champions.

Each year, the legislators in the New York State Capitol make all that work moot and deny New York once more from legalizing MMA and reaping the financial and sporting benefits of such. This year's edition of the NY MMA hokey-pokey took a nasty turn with some dirty politics being played in a closed door session of the Assembly. Sheldon Silver, the long-serving Assembly Speaker, put on a display of his famous ability to control the legislative agenda despite significant dissent from the Assembly at large. The New York Daily News has a solid run down of what shenanigans went down:

The source said after eight people had spoken in favor of legalizing MMA and eight against, Silver called on members who don't support the bill to raise their hands. About 25 members did.

Then he asked for a show of hands of those who support it before saying that it looked even, the source said.

An upstate member who supports the measure complained it didn't look even to her, the source said. When Silver asked what she wanted, a city Democrat joked, a "slow roll call."

The speaker took another informal vote, with 25 again raising their hands against. The "ayes" seemingly had more than 60, the source said.

Silver then said others had expressed opposition privately and that the votes weren't there to move the bill.

In a wonderful display of true MMA journalism, The Fight Nerd brings us further details on what went down:

The Fight Nerd.com has confirmed with two other sources close to the situation, both asking to remain anonymous, that the poll was indeed in 2-1 favor for the sport. The sources speaking with The Fight Nerd disagreed with the Daily News on the head count, saying that only around 70 of the 100 members declared any stance on the issue. Still, all reports say that the poll placed the Democrats in favor of MMA in the significant majority.

One man close to the issue who is not remaining anonymous is Republican Assemblyman Dean Murray. An outspoken proponent of the sanctioning of MMA, Murray took issue with the results of the Democratic meeting.

[...]

"[I was] extremely disappointing and, quite frankly, a little surprised," said Murray. "From what I've heard speaking to members on the other side of the aisle, the support is there."

The minority conference Murray belongs to looked at the bill last week and reported, according to Murray "overwhelming support" for mixed martial arts in the state of New York. Further, Murray's work with Assembly Democrats led him to believe that a floor vote would be a slam dunk for MMA.

"I've done the head count," said Murray. "If [the MMA bill] went to the floor tomorrow it would receive more ‘yea' votes than same sex marriage, another controversial issue that passed, did last year."

The bolded words have been added for emphasis to highlight Murray's belief in the true legislative support for MMA. After the jump, an informal explanation of why this odd situation can happen in New York from Ben Thapa.

For many years, the only three people that really mattered in NY government were the governor (whoever it was at the time, but is now Andrew Cuomo), Sheldon Silver (Speaker of the Assembly since 1994) and Joe Bruno (former Senate Majority Leader for 14 years, retired in 2008 and subsequently convicted of a few counts of fraud).

Those three men essentially ran the New York government and while making political deals, they would toss the occasional bone to their "peers" or the various government divisions to keep them in line. With Bruno's retirement, the Senate fractured a bit and is much more of a wild card than it used to be. Silver is said to be retiring in the next few years, but still wields a powerful influence over the Assembly. What he says is pretty much what goes and Assemblyman Dean Murray speaking out in public is kind of a mini-big deal.

Unfortunately, the NY democratic process has not been very democratic at all for the last 20 years. Silver in particular has been almost untouchable. He gets to do almost anything he wants (within reason) because he has the expertise, the solid power base in his home district and the legislative votes in his hand to do whatever he should choose - even if the governor opposes him. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor elected with a near landslide of votes, famously butted heads with Silver over a variety of issues before the prostitution scandal brought Spitzer down.

Sheldon Silver is now working with his fifth governor and has been lukewarm at best and downright oppositional to MMA at worst over the years. I am of the opinion that until Silver retires, MMA does not pass. As Marc Ratner says in the Daily news piece, an up or down vote in public is the best avenue for NY MMA to get legalized.

Update: A "very, very disappointed" Marc Ratner, vice president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, said he was looking for was an up-or-down vote.

"I feel 150% if we had a vote on the floor of the Assembly we would win," Ratner said. "Not to get a vote is un-American."

In an interesting (perhaps only to me) turn, Ronald Canestrari, the Assembly Majority Leader, has made several comments about MMA being barbaric, questioning whether boxing would be legalized if the issue were before the Assembly and other statements that are anti-MMA in their collective. Canestrari also happens to be my representative to the Assembly and a request for an extended sit-down interview is in the works.

My favorite Canestrari quote, courtesy of the Times Union:

"The consensus was no," said Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes. "I'm glad. I think it's barbaric. One one hand we're taking steps to reduce bullying in schools, but would endorse an activity that is blatantly violent."

Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for further investigation and editorials on this topic.

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