A bill to legalize professional mixed-martial arts (MMA) passed the New York Assembly overwhelmingly on Tuesday, paving the way for the Empire State to become the fiftieth and final state to sanction cage fighting.
Marc Ratner, lured away from the Nevada State Athletic Commission to the UFC to help legitimize the sport, described the ordeal to receive New York’s imprimatur as “almost an eight year pregnancy—finally the baby was born tonight.”
The legislative triumph marks a victory over unions seeking to block MMA in New York because of organized labor grievances in Nevada stemming from the open shop of the Station Casinos owned by the Fertitta family that owns the majority stake in the UFC.
“The only entity other than us that ever formally registered to lobby on this issue was Culinary 226 in Las Vegas,” UFC Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Epstein pointed out. “They are the only other entity that registered to lobby besides us. It’s an irrefutable fact.”
Speaker Sheldon Silver, convicted of numerous charges of corruption in November, for years blocked MMA in the Assembly while the Republican-controlled Senate supported the change. Fertitta noted, “The obvious thing of what changed was we have a new speaker in Speaker [Carl] Heastie, who was at least willing, whether he supported the bill or not, to let the democratic process play out. That was more than can be said for the prior speaker.”
Still, opponents of the bill accused mixed-martial artists of disproportionately peopling the ranks of domestic abusers, compared MMA to gay pornography, and suggested a heavy crossover between people cheering fighters in arenas and the crowds cheering Donald Trump at rallies.
Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, a Long Island native, said of these critics that he was at once “embarrassed for them” and happy they made “ridiculous” arguments that undermined their positions. Weidman, who in fact spoke favorably of Trump’s presidential bid last year around the time he lobbied legislators in Albany, said he heard news of the bill’s passage while rolling on the mat during jiu jitsu training.
“We’re hoping that [Governor Andrew Cuomo] will sign the bill in fairly short order here,” UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta explained on a conference call. “We’re hopeful that we will be holding one possibly two events by the end of the year here in 2016.”
Fertitta indicated that the promotion would treat the initial Madison Square Garden as an “epic moment for the sport and for our company,” stacking the card with not only noteworthy New York natives but the biggest names in the company fighting the best possible matches. “Believe me,” Fertitta explained, “we want to knock it out of the park.”
Atop a major event at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, the UFC looks at venues in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Buffalo as possible sites for UFC cards. A 120-day period must elapse before Cuomo signs the bill, which he has indicated that he will, and any promotion holds a professional card.
Weidman, who told Breitbart Sports two years ago of his strong desire to compete in the Long Island Coliseum, said on Tuesday that he wished that his trainer Matt Serra received an opportunity to fight in his home state. “I have been fighting now for seven years,” the All-American explained. “I have been missing out on the opportunity to fight in front of family, friends, and fans.”
But the 113-25 vote gives him more motivation to win his belt back from Luke Rockhold, who stopped him in the fourth round in December, so that he can defend it in front of his home-state fans come the fall when the UFC believes they will hold their first event in the state.
“The vision gets even stronger now,” Weidman confessed. “I had to get my belt back. But now just the fact that I’m going to be able to defend my belt in Madison Square Garden in front of all of New York is crazy to even start thinking about.”