It’s called mixed martial arts for a reason.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s largest promoter, is suing to overturn New York’s ban on live bouts, saying the 1997 law runs roughshod over its freedom of expression, a novel argument that likens MMA to live ballet, music or theater.
“Live professional MMA is clearly intended and understood as public entertainment and, as such, is expressive activity protected by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit said.
While the arts are protected, no court has ever directly confronted the question of whether athletes have a First Amendment right to be seen in action, said Barry Friedman, a professor at New York University School of Law, who is representing the plaintiffs.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that a professional athlete is claiming a First Amendment right to communicate with fans in a live event,” said Friedman.
The courts needn’t declare all sports protected by the First Amendment, because MMA — which, as the name suggests, draws on a mosaic of different fighting styles — is special, Friedman said.
“It’s martial artistry,” he said. “The nature of martial arts is a lot like dancing.”
“As is true of ballet, music, or theater, for an audience, attending a live MMA event is an experience that cannot be replicated on a screen," according the complaint.