MMA denied: New York legislature once again acts like loons

A few days ago, New York legislators were able to, in their infinite wisdom, push a bill through the assembly and state senate to authorize Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare July 29 as "Chicken Wing Day."

They weren't, however, able to bring to a vote a bill that would legalize mixed martial arts in the state.

And so, for another year, New York will remain the only state in the country in which MMA is illegal and not regulated by the state athletic commission.

For years Sheldon Silver stood in the way of a bill that would sanction MMA in New York. (AP)
For years Sheldon Silver stood in the way of a bill that would sanction MMA in New York. (AP)

It's laughable, and clearly corrupt. There is no logical rationale to ban MMA or to impose conditions that would make it difficult to promote events in the state.

Those who say it's too brutal or too violent simply don't understand the sport. In 23 years, the UFC has experienced zero deaths. Football can't say the same. Neither can boxing. Personally, I've covered seven boxing deaths in my reporting career, and boxing is a sanctioned sport in New York.

There are legitimate health concerns related to illegal, underground and/or unsanctioned fights – fights without qualified referees, doctors or emergency personnel on hand. These kinds of matches happen in New York because the commission has no power to stop them, yet sanctioned fights (which would mandate qualified referees, doctors and emergency medical personnel be present) remain banned by law.

MMA is an amalgamation of Olympic sports, which are all otherwise legal in New York. No one is seeking to ban boxing in the state, nor jiu-jitsu or judo or kickboxing or Muay Thai or wrestling or any other martial art. It's only MMA that is affected.

All it shows is the seamy underbelly of state politics.

There are 150 assembly members in New York, and 76 votes are needed to pass the bill. There are more than 76 members of the state assembly who are prepared to vote in favor of sanctioning MMA. But after the bill passed in the Senate for a sixth straight year (and seventh time total as it passed twice this year), it yet again wasn't brought to the assembly floor for a vote.

In the past, the antagonist was the reviled Sheldon Silver, the powerful and long-time Speaker of the New York State Assembly. But in January, Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges and resigned as speaker in February. He's no longer able to prevent a bill from surfacing.

His resignation led to the elevation of Carl Heastie, believed to be an MMA supporter, to the speaker's job.

Still, it wasn't enough to get a vote on the deal. UFC officials believe they have well over 100 votes in the assembly if the matter is ever brought to the full body for a vote. This time, apparently, that didn't happen because the legislative session ran too long and some Democratic members had already left Albany and headed home.

The Democratic caucus' policy is not to bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless it has the 76 Democratic votes required to pass it without any Republican help. Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle told the Westchester Journal News he has enough Democratic votes if everyone is present, but that he didn't have enough Thursday with some members having left.

Adding in Republican votes, the Journal News reported the bill would pass easily.

Of course, there is the specter of the powerful Las Vegas Culinary Union, which is a mortal enemy of UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertittas own the Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, which has remained non-union.

As a result, the culinary has battled the Fertittas at every turn, including in their other businesses such as the UFC.

Silver has done the Culinary Union's bidding in the past simply by blocking the bill from coming up for a vote. Even without him in charge, the status quo continues.

"The corruption in NY politics is disgusting!!!!" UFC president Dana White tweeted.

It's lunacy, but there is no real political pressure being placed on the members to make something happen.

There is a large segment of the public in New York not interested in MMA and not taking a stance one way or another. At the same time there aren't widespread protests against the inactivity, and so members don't feel their jobs are at risk for not supporting the bill.

Thus, it's going to be at least another year until there is a legal MMA card in New York.

There may be several hundred illegal ones, though, and without adequate regulation and medical care someone could be seriously injured. If that happens – and I pray to God that it doesn't – the person's blood will be on the hands of the governor, the legislators and everyone else who worked to block this bill's passage.

Maybe they can think about that while they're attending the Chicken Wing Day celebrations.