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Fight Begins to Legalize Pro MMA in NY

Fight Begins to Legalize Professional MMA in NY in 2014

New York Stands Alone Among All 50 States in Making it Illegal

ALBANY, NY – Urging that 2014 be the year New York joins all other 49 states in legalizing professional mixed martial arts (MMA), officials and athletes from The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) were joined by the two prime sponsors of the legislation – Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle (D-Irondequoit) and Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Oneida County) – as well as other legislators and MMA supporters to kick off the effort to legalize and regulate professional MMA in New York.

“The sport of mixed martial arts has changed dramatically since New York made it illegal in the state 17 years ago.  New York made the right call then and it’s time for state leaders to make the right call now and join the other 49 states where professional MMA is legal,” said Ike Lawrence Epstein, Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of UFC. “The State Senate has passed a bill for four years to legalize and regulate MMA in New York. Now it’s time for the Governor and the Assembly to get behind this effort.”

Epstein pointed to Senator John McCain’s (R-Arizona) transformation on the issue – based on the evolution of the sport – as typical of the way many New Yorkers have evolved on the issue.  In 1995 McCain said, “Some of it is so brutal that it nauseates people.” He recently said, “I was appalled and very unhappy about a lack of regulation.”  He went on to say, “It has become a sport with amazing popularity and success. There are rules. There are regulations. And there are restrictions. And that, I think, has been a dramatic improvement and I’m really pleased to see it.”

Epstein highlighted a recent economic study that showed legalizing professional MMA in New York will generate $135 million in economic activity across New York. 

“We hear elected officials across New York advocating for economic development and jobs.  UFC and other MMA promoters are ready to provide some of that economic development and tourism that leads to jobs in New York,” Epstein said. “But we are also hearing from elected officials in scores of other states and dozens of other countries, asking us to bring the fastest growing sport in the world to their communities.  So far, New York continues to lose out.”

“Sporting related tourism is a significant economic driver in New York, and the legalization of MMA would serve to further bolster this industry by creating hundreds of new jobs and generating tens of millions in economic activity,” Morelle said.  “I am pleased that this legislation continues to gain a diverse and broad range of support from my colleagues in the Assembly. I am hopeful that 2014 is the year that New York becomes the 50th state to legalize MMA.”

“The Senate has passed the bill to bring New York in line with every other state in the nation four times – with overwhelming and growing bipartisan support, and I am confident the Senate will pass it again this year.  It’s time for the Assembly to finally join us in making legal and regulated professional MMA in New York a reality,” Griffo said.  “It will generate tourism, economic development, jobs and revenue across the state and particularly upstate.  We like to think of New York as the sports capital of the world. It’s hard to make that claim when we’re the only state that refuses to legalize the fastest growing sport in the world.”

“The $135 million in annual revenue generated by legalizing MMA is essential to New York’s continued economic recovery. The positive impact will likewise be enjoyed by the many small business owners who stand to benefit from increased tourism and job creation across the state,” Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens) said. “Some opponents have claimed that MMA is degrading to women.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  For many women – including Liz Carmouche and United States Olympic medal winner Ronda Rousey, as well as thousands of New York women who train in martial arts – MMA is empowering.”

Joining the legislators and UFC officials at the press conference were three UFC athletes: Travis Browne, Liz Carmouche and Uriah Hall.  Hall, who grew up in Queens and lives in Manhattan, expressed his frustration at not being able to practice his profession in New York.

“It is amazing to me that New York lawyers can practice law, doctors can practice medicine, football players and other athletes can compete in their sports, but mixed martial artists are told ‘go somewhere else’ to do your job,” Hall said.  “Two UFC champions live here:  Jon Jones who lives in Ithaca after growing up in Endicott, and Chris Weidman, a lifelong Long Islander. They and I and scores of other professional New York MMA athletes would love to compete here. So would Liz and Travis and hundreds of other MMA athletes from around the country and around the world. And many of their fans will follow to see them here.”

“We’re very excited about our big event Saturday night – the night before the first Super Bowl in the New York area – in Newark,” Epstein said. “But can you just imagine the excitement and tourism revenue that would have been generated by nearly 20,000 fans packing MSG or the Barclay on the eve of the Super Bowl?”

In 2007, New Yorkers were divided on legalizing MMA in the state, according to a poll conducted by Global Strategies Group, with 41 percent supporting it and 39 percent opposing.  A Global poll conducted in November 2013 shows that now support for legalizing MMA in New York is 45-28 percent, and support among those under 45 years old stands at 61-20 percent. When told that MMA is legal in the other 49 states, support among New Yorkers for legalizing it here jumps to 55-32 percent.

“Legal in 49 states. Increases tourism and helps create jobs in the state. Supported by a majority of New Yorkers.  Those are the reasons the Governor and Assembly should jump on the bandwagon and finally pass the bill,” Epstein said.  “And there’s not a single legitimate reason to keep New York as an outlier in the country and in the world.”