new york moved one step closer to becoming the 45th state to regulate mixed martial arts, as the state Senate voted 32-26 to pass a bill on Wednesday that would legalize the sport.
A similar bill is currently in committee in the state Assembly, where it is expected to pass before facing a close vote on the Assembly floor. If it gets out of the Assembly, Gov. Paterson is expected to sign it into law and fans could see a mixed martial arts event in Madison Square Garden as early as this fall.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s most well-known promotion, is hoping an Assembly vote will take place over the next two weeks before the current legislative session ends.
Earlier this year, Gov. Paterson included a provision in his budget proposal to legalize the sport, which has been banned in the state since the late 1990s. But the state’s ongoing budget negotiations — coupled with some reservations by lawmakers — seemed to have made passage unlikely, at least during the budget process.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, the bill’s main opponent, has called the sport barbaric and points to a Marist poll, released in January, that reported that 68% of registered voters don’t want to see the MMA ban lifted.
Yet in March, some 17,000 people showed up to an Ultimate Fighting Championship title bout in Newark. And New Yorkers purchased more than 30% of the tickets, the UFC said. Roughly two thousand more New Yorkers attended a simulcast viewing party for the event at Radio City Music Hall.
With both the state and the city facing economic uncertainty, the sport’s best selling point appears to be simple economics. A study sponsored by the UFC predicted that an event in Manhattan would generate $11.3 million in economic activity.
Reilly said the study overstates the benefit of the sport.
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This is definitely positive news, but it’s still far too early to start celebrating. The Senate vote wasn’t a landslide at 32-26, and a similar bill will still have to pass through two votes in the Assembly before Gov. Patterson can sign off on regulating the sport.
Moreover, even if the bill does pass, there’s no guarantee we see MMA in New York this year due to the potential set-up time that might be required by the state athletic commission to begin proper oversight over the sport.
However, I can’t help but wonder if this news might apply additional pressure on Ontario to legalize the sport. These politicians may very well be looking around at the existing sports and entertainment landscape – one that heavily supports the tourism industry – and decide that they cannot afford to cede any more advantages to their competition, domestically or internationally.