Judge throws out UFC suit, but it's far from a total defeat for MMA in New York

Judge throws out UFC suit, but it's far from a total defeat for MMA in New York

Zuffa, the company which owns the UFC, didn't come out on top in its lawsuit against the New York attorney general challenging the constitutionality of the state's law which bans professional mixed martial arts. But this might be a case in which the loser didn't exactly lose.

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New York is the only state in the country which bans professional mixed martial arts. Though amateur MMA and many unsanctioned illegal professional bouts are held in the state each year, the 1997 law, "The Live Professional MMA Ban," has been cited to prevent licensed promoters from holding sanctioned MMA fights in the state.

U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood did not rule on the merits of Zuffa's suit, writing that Zuffa did not have the proper legal standing to bring the action.

In her conclusion, though, she seemed to indicate she believed the law did not ban professional MMA in the state. Zuffa has not attempted stage a card in New York without getting the law overturned because the Attorney General's position is that it would be a crime to do so. Wood, however, seemed to indicate that she felt differently.

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, with women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, with women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

While ruling against Zuffa because it lacks standing, Wood wrote, "Plaintiffs, particularly Zuffa, may consider filing new vagueness claims based on events that occurred after this lawsuit commenced, including the [Office of the Attorney General’s] recent statements that the Ban prohibits sanctioned professional MMA (despite its plain language to the contrary). The Court advises Plaintiffs to weigh the merits of a new federal suit against those of a state declaratory judgment action, given that the latter unlike a federal decision on vagueness grounds could decisively settle disputes regarding the Ban’s scope."

During a Feb. 13, 2013, hearing on the New York Attorney General's motion to dismiss the case, Zuffa was arguing that it would face potential criminal prosecution if it attempted to promote a card in the state while "The Live Professional MMA Ban" was in place.

But a deputy district attorney said that Zuffa could stage an event by partnering with a licensed promoter who was specifically exempted by the law, such as a karate promoter. The attorney general's office  backtracked on that point later, but Wood took note of it and wrote about it in her decision Tuesday granting the summary judgment for the defendants.

"In briefing and argument related to its motions to dismiss the initial complaint and First Amended Complaint, the OAG suggested that Zuffa would be able to promote a professional MMA event sanctioned by one of the Ban’s exempt organizations," Wood wrote. "After Zuffa began planning such an event, however, the OAG reversed course and declared all sanctioned professional MMA illegal under the Ban" 

But because that comment came after the suit had already been filed, Zuffa couldn't rely upon it for the basis of finding the law unnecessarily vague. It is why, however, she suggested Zuffa consider another legal action making that argument.

The UFC is considering whether to appeal Wood's ruling or whether to file another lawsuit. But there is activity in the state legislature that may overturn the law and make the issue moot. A bill to legalize professional MMA has passed the New York state senate six years in a row, but it hasn't come to a vote in the state assembly. Powerful former speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted in February on federal corruption charges and resigned his post, prevented the bill from going to the floor for a vote.

Silver has been replaced as speaker by Carl Heastie, who is considered an MMA proponent.