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Saturday Night’s Alright for Secret MMA Fight Club

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Sen. John McCain thinks of mixed martial arts as "human cockfighting." Former New York Gov. George Pataki once described it as "barbaric." But MMA lured more than 100 people this past Saturday night to a downtown Manhattan gym. They came to watch men slug it out in a secret mixed martial arts cage fight. The rules are simple: No biting. No kicks to the groin. The fighters wear no pads, no helmets and only wrap their hands in thin, four-ounce gloves to protect against broken fingers — caused by brutal hits to the face and head. The goal is to punch and kick your opponent into submission. Yes, chokeholds are permitted. New York is the only state in the nation where MMA fighting remains illegal. But that hasn’t stopped promoters from organizing about six underground MMA fights a year throughout the metropolitan region, according to Jim Genia, who chronicles the underground world of MMA in his book "Raw Combat." The fights are often held in the outer boroughs — at a boxing gym in Brooklyn, or warehouses in the Bronx and once even at a mosque. Every year New York state legislators mull the idea of sanctioning the sport, possibly as a lucrative source of tax revenue. But many in Albany continue to dismiss MMA as too violent. "The politicians are idiots," said Josh James, a New Yorker who took in Saturday night’s fight. "It’s a sport. If it wasn’t, you’d just watch a couple guys go fight behind a bar." Fans like James defend MMA as far safer than boxing. Fighters can "tap out" if they feel defeated, as one did Saturday night, or a referee can call the fight if a fighter is badly injured. The next fight is in December and you’re welcome to watch — if you can find out where.

Frank Shamrock Talks MMA Ahead of N.J. Event

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Still banned in New York State, mixed martial arts will make a heavyweight splash at the Izod Center in Newark on Saturday when Strikeforce stages two quarterfinal matchups of its eight-man World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament. Retired 38-year-old MMA great Frank Shamrock spoke with amNY ahead of the event he will help broadcast on Showtime. How did MMA go from spectacle to sport? [In the late ’90s] we just sat down and really made it a sport — wrote the rules out, redefined the weight classes and, I guess, really gave what the politicians were looking for at the time to make it a sport. ... Now ... it’s one of the most regulated sports in the world, with the drug testing and steroid testing. ... We’ve still got that stigma dragging around with us as a bunch of Wild West cage-fighting weirdos. So we’re just constantly trying to re-educate and sort of redefine that. Why is the sport growing so quickly? I get why people are flocking to MMA. You know, it’s: "Whoa, oh, ho, hey! Oh, wait a minute. Oh, oh, oh! Okay. Tell me more. Who’s that guy?" I don’t know how I’m going to transcribe that. [Laughs] What’s the difference between the UFC — the dominant MMA league — and Strikeforce? [The UFC’s] presentation is, the UFC is the most important thing — the brand itself, uch like the WWE is. We’re more interested in trying to find that guy: the next Muhammed Ali guy, the next guy that can beat everybody, the guy that I was at one time. ... We have to have a very global business idea. We have to put some of our business requirements aside to create a bigger dream. What can people expect from the main event: Antonio Silva versus Fedor Emelianenko? I see this fight as size and attrition against speed and accuracy. ... Fedor has amazing accuracy. He just throws his body behind punches, and he’s just destroying these guys.

Jon Jones: Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York

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Critics of MMA have claimed different reasons for opposing regulation. But as our millions of fans and anyone who has been paying attention knows, these claims don't hold up. First they said it wasn't a real sport. But MMA is the fastest-growing sport in the world, sets event gate and concession records, and millions watch fights on pay-per-view TV. We are highly trained athletes, Olympians and All-American college wrestlers. MMA has gone mainstream. Fighters appear in ads for Microsoft, and UFC sponsors include the Marines, Harley Davidson and Anheuser-Busch. And it's hard to argue with dollar figures. A recent study found New York regulation would generate $23 million in economic activity and create hundreds of local jobs. Then detractors said it wasn't safe. But we have some of the most rigorous safety standards, drug testing and officiating in professional sports. All that our critics have left to say is MMA is barbaric. It is full of strategy, fluidity. Highly conditioned athletes look for momentary points of leverage and advantage — combining karate, jiu jitsu, wrestling and kickboxing, which can take decades to master. MMA isn't for everyone. But to call it brutal is to misunderstand the sport, its athletes and its fans. We're not masochists, we're college graduates, role models, Olympic champions. We have a greater safety record than the NFL and boxing, and with millions of fans, we are not going away.

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