Time for New York to legalize MMA

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

The intricacies of the New York state budget process are best left to Gov. David A. Paterson, the state legislature and the voters. Whether deep cuts in the state education system are warranted is a question only New Yorkers and their elected representatives can answer.

There is one part of the budget process, however, that is of great interest to mixed martial arts fans not only in New York, but throughout the United States and, indeed, around the world.

New York is the only state in which mixed martial arts is illegal. Paterson has included a provision in his 2010-11 budget – which may be voted upon Monday – that would allow the New York State Athletic Commission to regulate MMA.

That MMA isn’t legal in New York in 2010 is beyond absurd. A small but vocal minority in the state have done yeoman’s work spreading misinformation about the sport and keeping its legalization and sanctioning from a vote before the full legislature.

More high school football players die in competition in a given year than competitors who have died in a sanctioned mixed martial arts event.

Since 1993, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded and what has become known as the MMA era began, there have been two recordeds death in sanctioned fights. Sam Vasquez died of injuries sustained in an Oct. 20, 2007, fight in Houston; and over the weekend, Michael Kirkham died of injuries sustained in a South Carolina fight.

No fighter has died in a UFC show.

But according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, there were three deaths among high school football players in 2009 and there have been 63 since 1993, the year modern MMA began.

There is no rational reason to keep MMA illegal, a sport that is made up largely of widely accepted Olympic events.

MMA is primarily a mixture of boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu, though some fighters also employ judo, taekwondo and karate, among others. Boxing, wrestling, judo and taekwondo are Olympic sports.

The safety record of the sport is unparalleled. There have been no cases of long-term traumatic brain injury noted as a result of competing in MMA, largely because there are so many different ways to win.

Punching the opponent is the only technique to employ in a boxing match; punching an opponent in the head repeatedly can and does have a significant negative affect. There have been literally thousands of deaths in sanctioned boxing matches and just as many, if not more, cases of traumatic brain injury.

That is not meant to indict high school football or boxing. They’re wonderful sports and have greatly benefitted millions who have competed in them.

It is, rather, to point out that the argument against MMA is without merit.

Not everyone is a fight fan, just as not everyone is a hockey fan, a baseball fan, a basketball fan or a football fan. New York, though, doesn’t outlaw those sports despite the distaste among some for them.

A UFC event in New York City would generate millions of dollars for the state’s coffers as well as its businesses. It’s not just UFC shows that would benefit the New York economy, however. California, which began regulating MMA in 2006, now sanctions more than 100 shows a year and it’s more than reasonable to believe New York would attract a similar number.

Unregulated MMA events already are occurring weekly underneath the noses of New York athletic commission officials, who currently lack the budget or the manpower to shut them down. A fighter is far more at risk in an unsanctioned show, in which proper medical procedures are less likely to be followed and in which the referees aren’t as good, than they would be in a sanctioned show.

At unsanctioned shows, no one test fighters for brain problems. No one looks for steroid abuse or if a contestant has HIV. There probably won’t be a doctor at ringside and there’s often not an ambulance in the arena ready to take a troubled fighter to a hospital. All of that, and much more, is in place at sanctioned shows.

However New York resolves its budget problems is up to the state. But legalizing and sanctioning MMA shouldn’t be sacrificed as part of reaching a budget deal.

Mixed martial arts is a major professional sport with highly conditioned, world-class athletes. It deserves to be treated as such by New York, which would benefit handsomely by its legalization.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jun 28, 2010