MMA is now infamously illegal in New York. Or is it?
While professional MMA is barred by statute, the amateur version is not. Amateur events are taking place in The Empire State, both santioned and unsanctioned (although both are unregulated by an government agency).
This weekend saw examples of both.
Sanctioned MMA in New York
As fourteen fighters registered for an amateur mixed martial arts bout in Rome Saturday, they were also weighing in on a long contested political issue.
"The biggest goal is to obviously get the word out that MMA needs to be legalized in New York State," Heavy Hands Productions owner Frank Cristiano said.
Cristiano has promoted other martial arts fights, but this is his first amateur MMA event following new speculation on how to skirt the combat sports ban.
The right to have professional MMA events has been a battle since the mid-1990s and it's a fight that's seen multiple rounds.
"There's no reason why we are the last state in the Union that would not allow full competitive mixed martial arts," Cristiano said.
After eight attempts to repeal the ban, some fight promoters believe they have found a loophole. Cristiano is using part of the law that allows for martial arts events sanctioned by regulatory bodies like the United States Muay Thai Association.
"On an amateur level," he clarified. "Professional level, yes, as soon as you start paying people, and as soon as you start having to sign contracts, that's where it gets dicey."
They have also instituted higher safety Regulations, like shorter rounds and requiring shin guards. But more than an opportunity to fight, Saturday gave a voice to some of the Mohawk Valley's fighters.
"Every sport's dangerous, you don't see old MMA fighters leaving the cage with terrible brain damage or ruined knees like offensive linemen from the NFL and boxers from previous eras," Amateur MMA fighter Matthew Mahon said.
Mahon bucks the stereotypes and shows the thinking man's side of MMA with his degree in writing and philosophy from Ithaca College.
"If I'm in the middle of a cage and I get incredibly aggressive and I stop thinking, I'll quickly get rolled into a submission and the fight will bend quickly against me," he explained.
Cristiano could face some stiff penalties and action from the state for the fights, but he's not very worried about it.
"It's only a misdemeanor," he joked.
Cristiano says he has taken as many precautions as possible to keep the event safe and legal. He hopes that if amateur MMA can make a punch, the repeal of the ban could find new life in the next Assembly session.
Earlier today there was an edition of the Underground Combat League (UCL), New York City's long-running, unsanctioned MMA promotion. Unlike most of the other states in the country, New York has deemed professional MMA to be illegal. But a loophole in the law has allowed amateur events to flourish — albeit in a quasi-hush-hush world where fighters sometimes use aliases and the locations of shows are kept secret from the athletic commission.
Please, don't judge them too harshly. The UCL, for instance, has churned out over forty events since its debut in 2003, and can count among its alumni such fighters as former UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar and International Fight League heavyweight Bryan Vetell (as well as a slew of dudes who went on to fight in Strikeforce, the WEC, Bellator and top regional promotions). And before you accuse anyone of exploitation, remember this: everyone from promoter Peter Storm to the fighters to the fans wants to see New York State sanction the sport; it's only because New York won't that events like this exist.
You're probably about to ask something along the lines of "Well, don't you think underground shows like this one are setting the sport back and keeping it from being sanctioned?" That's a clown-question, bro. The politicians who favor MMA in New York have cited the state's thriving underground fight scene as a reason why the sport must be sanctioned.
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