NY State Senate passes bill regulating MMA again, AG changes course on unregulated MMA and more updates

Michael Nagle

The New York State Senate has once again passed a bill regulating mixed martial arts but it remains to be seen whether or not the State Assembly will even bring the bill to a vote. Meanwhile the state's AG has apparently stepped away from his office's prior position that unregulated MMA events could be held in the state.

We've been following the seemingly endless battle to get mixed martial arts legally regulated in the state of New York for years now and this week has seen a number of developments.

First some good news out of Albany, from the Times Union:

The state Senate approved a bill legalizing professional mixed martial arts bouts - a measure that has passed the chamber before, only to be blocked by the state Assembly. The vote, which cut across party lines, was 47-14.
The legislation places regulation of the sport in the hands of the State Athletic Commission, and creates an 8.5 percent tax on ticket sales as well as a 3 percent tax on gross receipts from broadcasting rights.

MMA athletes such as star women's division fighter Ronda Rousey were in the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby for the bill, along with Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman and CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport's dominant brand.

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta spoke to MMA Fighting's Mike Chiappetta about their current lobbying efforts in the state:

"We're hopeful we get a full vote. We don't know. Nobody can predict that. The issue of whether or not the bill makes it to floor to be voted upon is in the hands of the Speaker, who controls the agenda. We know we have a lot of support. There's a lot of support in the Assembly that wants to make this happen and that feels like it should happen. At the end of the day, we're going to continue to try to push and convince the Speaker that it deserves to go through the democratic process of being brought to the floor and going through the vote."

Here's UFC women's Bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey getting her lobby on:

Of course we've seen the MMA bill get past the NY State Senate a number of times in the past. This time it MAY actually have a chance in the Assembly as well. Here's Sheldon Silver, the capo di tutti capo of the NY Assembly talking to the NY Post:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he sees legalization of professional mixed martial arts as inevitable.

"At some point there probably will be an approval in this state," Silver told reporters. "I can't tell you when."

Silver's hand-picked majority leader, Rochester Democrat Joseph Morelle, has long sponsored a legalization bill.

Silver said it will be up to the members of the Democratic Assembly majority to decide whether to bring the bill to a vote.

"We will take it up in conference and we will do what we think our conference thinks is acceptable," said Silver - who personally disapproves of the sport but has acknowledged it's on TV and could generate revenue for the state if New York is allowed to hold professional bouts.

If it gets past the Assembly the Governor would then have to sign the bill. UFC President Dana White tweeted on that topic yesterday:

Of course, since we're talking about MMA in New York, there has to be a one-step forward, two-steps back rhythm and in due course, Ariel Helwani tweeted the following, throwing cold water on what had appeared to be a loophole that would allow the UFC to put on a legal, albeit unregulated event in the state:

Statement from the UFC's lawyer in NY:

"The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is greatly disappointed that the settlement conference scheduled today before the Federal Court has been cancelled because the New York Attorney General is no longer willing to discuss a settlement consistent with the position his Office has repeatedly taken in Court.

"The Attorney General has once again changed his position on the meaning of the MMA ban in New York and we will vigorously urge the Federal Court to decide that the ban is unconstitutional."

It's all about the Assembly vote.

Dave Meltzer had more background on the weirdness of New York's current law in The Wrestling Observer (subscription required):

More notes on the New York state legal craziness, and this really is crazy. On 3/23, there will be an MMA show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and another at the Times Square Hotel. You know why they can run but UFC can't. Because amateur MMA is perfectly legal and by law, unregulated in New York. So you can have fights as long as you don't pay the fighters, and they are totally unregulated, but regulated shows where the fighters are paid and the state would get sales tax, those are still illegal. Of the MMA shows held in New Jersey in recent years, 40% of the paid tickets were purchased in New York state. There are also 119 bars and restaurants in the state who broadcast the UFC PPV shows. The last two FOX specials averaged 243,000 viewers in the New York market alone, more than any other market in the country. That's not a surprise given the population of New York is higher than any other market. New York did a 2.1 rating for the last FOX show, so even though there were more viewers in New York that anywhere else, the rating was below the 2.5 national average. But the point being, exactly what is point of the law making it illegal?

UFC is hoping with some of the older members of the Assembly retiring and being replaced by younger members, that this silliness will end. The Culinary Workers union's latest hit piece sent out included having a few religious leaders sign a paper that read, "In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Newton, CT, it is unthinkable that lawmakers in any jurisdiction would risk exposing our children to an activity that involves extreme violence and brutality." Once you start making arguments like that, to me, you just expose how weak your stance and credibility are.

Stay tuned. There still appears to be a chance that the UFC will be able to hold their 20th anniversary show in Madison Square Garden this November. Maybe even with an Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones super fight.

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