For the second year in a row, the state Senate passed a bill Wednesday to legalize mixed-martial arts bouts in New York, sending the Legislation to a wary Assembly that has shot it down in previous years.
But Ultimate Fighting Championship officials said Wednesday that they like their chances, largely because they said the bill is set to pick up a senior Assembly member -- Joe Morelle of Irondequoit, Monroe County -- as its lead sponsor.
Assembly Labor Chairman Keith Wright, D-Manhattan, will become one of the prime co-sponsors of the bill, his spokesman said Wednesday. Morelle could not be reached for comment.
"We're very excited," said Michael Mersch, general counsel Ultimate Fighting Championship. "We met with them both recently, and they are very, very passionate and very excited about it. I think they're going to reach out to as many people as they can and generate even more support."
While the bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate in the past, it has languished in the Democrat-led Assembly, where it died in the Ways and Means Committee last year.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, told reporters Wednesday that there isn't a consensus on the bill in his conference.
"There is a lot of sentiment for it and a lot of sentiment against it in this house," he said.
"On the one hand, I do believe it's rather violent and I think it sets a tone for people," he said. "On the other hand, I can turn on my television and see it. Every child can see it on their homes on their regular TV, and we're one of the few states that don't legalize it, and obviously legalization comes with Regulation."
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An MMA bill passed the New York State Senate on Wednesday, but there is still some hesitation in the State Assembly.
A bill that passed the State Senate on Wednesday would give the state regulatory authority, in essence making MMA legal.
"The major obstacle in all of this is lack of information. People just don't understand MMA is a very safe sport. It's safer than cheerleading and gymnastics, if you really look at the statistics of it," said MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.
State Assemblyman Joe Morelle is the bill's sponsor. Insiders say he is on the shortlist to be the next assembly majority leader, now that current Majority Leader Ron Canestrari is retiring.
"I think the amount of support in our conference has been growing. One of the things you observe is that we have a lot of new members, a lot of younger members. There just seems to be a lot of turnover in the last couple of years. And I think the younger members who have had UFC on television for the greater part of their life are probably more comfortable with it," said Morelle.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he has mixed feelings about the sport.
"I do believe it's rather violent. It sets a tone for people. On the other hand, I can turn on my television and see it. Every child can see it in their homes on regular TV," Silver said on Wednesday.
Although supporters are optimistic this time around, all previous efforts to pass the bill in the assembly have failed, including last year when it did get out of the Ways and Means Committee.
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The state Senate has once again entered the octagon and emerged with passage of a bill — sponsored by Sen. Joe Griffo — approving professional mixed martial arts bouts in New York. It passed 43-14, and was one of the few bills we’ve seen in which the makeup of the opposition cut across the usual party and demographic lines.
This is the third year in a row the measure has passed the Senate. As noted by Jimmy earlier this afternoon, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is more amenable to seeing it on the chamber floor than he has been in past years.
Here’s the release from the Senate GOP:
The New York State Senate today passed legislation (S.1707A) to legalize and regulate mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions in New York State.
“I am glad to see the Governor has said that he would strongly consider taking a position that I have held for four years now – that bringing MMA events to New York State will have a tremendously positive impact through the jobs that can be created and the spending that will stimulate the economy,” said Senator Joseph A. Griffo (R-C-I, Rome), the bill’s sponsor. “Instead of just talking about this idea, we brought it to a vote and passed this legislation now, so that we can start holding events in New York this year.”
“In recent years, mixed martial arts has evolved from its beginnings into a more reformed, organized and regulated sport worthy of our review for sanctioning consideration in New York State,” Griffo said. “In nearly 20 years, it has grown into an international phenomenon. It’s long past time to look into officially sanctioning this sport in New York. Forty-seven of the 50 states allow mixed martial arts matches. There are significant tourist and tax revenue dollars flowing to neighboring states who are hosting these events. I want that revenue coming here.”
One of the fastest growing sports in America, MMA is regulated in 47 states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and Florida. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the most heavily regulated of the mixed martial arts leagues. Since 2001, UFC has employed strenuous rules and regulations to protect its athletes, including medical testing and safety requirements more rigorous than those in professional boxing.
“Legalizing and regulating mixed martial arts in New York would strengthen our economy and help create new jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said. “Almost every other state has recognized the economic potential of MMA events. It’s time for New York to join them.”
Senator Griffo said that he is also upbeat about the potential for several New York–based fighters to participate in bouts in their home state. “I think it would be great for MMA stars to be able to appear before their hometown fans,” Griffo said. “It would also be a tremendous shot in the arm for the economy.”
Senator Griffo noted that a 2008 study reported that a UFC event in New York City would generate $11.5 million in net new economic activity:
$5.3 million in direct event spending, $1.4 million in non-lodging visitor spending, and $4.9 million in indirect/induced benefits. UFC events would produce substantial employee compensation: UFC events require over 300 staff working on the event, equivalent to the creation of 88 full-time local jobs per event. The 2008 study found that a UFC event in Buffalo would generate $1.7 million in direct event spending, $1.4 million in visitor spending, $2.1 million in indirect/induced benefits.
“I have been trying to get New York into this market for four years,” Senator Griffo said. “The longer we wait, the more revenue we lose out on. We’re calling for action to approve these competitions to help our economy and our communities.”
The bill has been sent to the Assembly for their consideration.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) today applauded the Senate’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation for approving S.1707A, which would authorize the New York State Athletic Commission to add Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to the list of contact sports that may hold matches and exhibitions in New York, and sending the bill to the Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business for consideration.
"New York is one of only three states that does not allow professional MMA events to take place within its borders,” UFC Chairman & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. “It’s unfair to the millions of UFC fans in New York who want to see matches in person without having to travel out of state, and we hope this is the first step in legalizing MMA in New York in 2012. Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in history – both in fans and in participants. There are literally hundreds of MMA schools and training facilities in New York, and the UFC has contributed to economic development and job creation in scores of communities around the country and across the world.”
"We want to bring the UFC to New York and to our loyal fans here, and we will do so immediately if this bill is passed and signed into law,” Fertitta added. “In fact, the UFC announced this very week that the UFC light heavyweight title bout between two New Yorkers – champion Jon Jones of Rochester and challenger Rashad Evans of Niagara Falls – will be held in Atlanta in April. It is a shame that such a huge event, which will attract fan and media attention around the world, between two New Yorkers cannot be held in their home state. The UFC remains committed, however, to bringing world class events to New York, and specifically Western New York, as soon as we are able to do so.”
S.1707-A is sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Utica), along with nine cosponsors – Republicans and Democrats. The bill passed the Senate in 2011 by a vote of 42-18.
“I want to thank Senator Betty Little and my colleagues on the committee for their swift action on moving this bill,” Sen. Griffo said. “This is not a bill that pits Republicans vs. Democrats. To the contrary, we have broad bipartisan support for this legislation and I know that we will once again pass it overwhelmingly in the Senate. And I believe we will do so early enough in the session to provide ample opportunity for the other House to consider it and to pass it.
“While I respect those who do not support this legislation, I must humbly say that they are misguided. This legislation will spur economic development in communities across the state, create jobs and produce new revenue for the state and for local governments where MMA events are held. And it will give the millions of MMA followers the ability to see this exciting sport in person and not just on television,” Sen. Griffo said.