Hand-to-hand combat that's good for N.Y.: Bring MMA to the Empire State
As a devoted follower of the full-contact sport known as mixed martial arts (MMA) - sometimes called "ultimate fighting" - I often host "fight watch" parties at my home on Long Island. The last few events we have watched have come from Pennsylvania, Nevada, California, Texas and Indiana.
When the talk turns to how great it would be to go to an MMA event in new york, my friends glare at me. You see, I take much of the blame for our state being one of only nine that still does not allow and regulate this exciting sport.
Sixteen years ago, I led the charge to ban MMA in New York. At the time, I was New York State Athletic Commission chairman - the boxing commissioner. When I took my first look at MMA, I saw it as a street fight minus the beer bottle. I stood in front of the sports and tourism committee in the state Legislature and used the most powerful evidence I could find, videos of brutal fights and graphic photos of injuries, to plead for it to be banned here.
I still believe I was correct back then. But the sport we banned in the mid-'90s has virtually nothing in common with the MMA of 2009. Given its remarkable evolution, it's time we welcomed MMA to New York - so we can enjoy and profit from this fast-growing entertainment.
It all started with new rules. In 2001, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were written. They quickly became the gold standard for all MMA leagues. The rules include provisions for weight classes and rounds and time limits, and they outlaw dangerous striking maneuvers.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the most successful MMA league, adopted the Unified Rules and has added additional regulations, including ringside doctors at every fight, mandatory prefight and postfight MRIs and comprehensive drug testing.
Those changes have produced two positive results: First, no athlete in the history of the UFC has suffered a catastrophic injury, as I and others had warned of 16 years ago. Second, MMA has gained worldwide popularity and firmly established itself as the fastest-growing sport in the country, if not the world.
I got an upclose and personal view of just how popular the sport has become when I went to UFC 101 at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center in August. The event brought in a $3.55 million gate, more than any boxing or combat event ever held in Pennsylvania. The sellout crowd of 15,007 poured into the city early and stayed late, making purchases at arena concessions, staying in hotels, dining at restaurants and taking taxis around the city.
The UFC commissioned an economic impact study to show how much money one of their events would generate in New York City. Of course, it's not objective, but the numbers are powerful: The study found a single UFC event here would create $11.5 million in "net new" economic activity, including roughly $1 million in state and local tax revenue.
It breaks my heart to see our neighboring states welcoming, enjoying and benefiting from such a great sport, while all we can do is watch from our living rooms.
New York State's motto is "Excelsior." It means onward and upward. Let's move onward and upward, ditching the old stereotypes of MMA and opening our doors to a great, safe sport that many New Yorkers love.
Gordon was New York State Athletic Commission chairman from 1988 to 1995 and is the host of the Sirius XM show "Fight Club," which profits from the popularity of the sport.
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