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FightLine in the Field: UFC Presser in Albany – 1.28.14

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of lobbying. The time for a renewed round of legislative combat is once again upon us, as the New York State Senate and Assembly convene to shape and reshape law and the UFC engages in its annual entreaty for entrance into the heretofore forbidden kingdom. The facts in this seemingly endless battle are thus:

  • New York is the last state to refuse to allow professional MMA competitions, holding fast to a 1997 law that banned what was then a very different incarnation of the sport.
  • For the last four years, the Senate has passed their half of the bill that would lift the ban. The Assembly’s half of the bill, however, has stalled before it could receive any sort of floor vote. As per Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, this is due to lack of sufficient support in a private 100-person Democratic conference.
  • A lawsuit filed by Zuffa against the State of New York inadvertently forced the State Attorney General to admit that the law doesn’t ban amateur mixed martial arts. As a result, New York played host to 47 such MMA events in 2013. These events are completely without state sanctioning and oversight.
  • A recent economic impact study projects that sanctioning MMA would bring $135 million into the state.

And so it was that, armed with these facts, the folks at the UFC held a press conference in the state capitol of Albany, in a basement room of the Legislative Office Building while in the hallway a few hundred parents and children rallied for some educational cause and further down the concourse the Red Cross held an awareness drive. Behind the podium stood UFC Chief Operating Office Ike Lawrence Epstein, fighters Uriah Hall, Liz Carmouche and Travis Browne, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle, Assemblyman Joseph Borelli and Senator Joseph Griffo, while in the audience sat a handful of political beat reporters.

Both Leader Morelle and Senator Griffo have been vocal in their support of sanctioning the sport in the past, and have sponsored the bills that have made their way – or not – through their respective legislative houses.

“Yes, there are enormous economic benefits and that’s very important to New York,” said Leader Morelle. “We’re the outlier now for all of North America, and so we need to do that – we need to recognize that the sport has evolved, it is safe, and there are economic benefits for the State of New York if we do it.”

Hall, who rose to stardom on TUF 17 and who hails from Queens, N.Y., spoke of how confounding it is that an athlete can compete in jiu-jitsu tournaments and pro kickboxing bouts here, but cannot do a sport combining those disciplines.

Browne and Carmouche both spoke of the opportunities MMA has given them, suggesting that should the sport be allowed in New York, similar opportunities could be provided to local aspiring fighters. “I had $100 for my family’s Christmas in 2010,” said Browne, who’s since gone 6-1 in the Octagon. “This year I had a lot more,” he said.

Said Carmouche:

When I got out of the Marine Corps I didn’t have a job. Every interview I went to was a bust. MMA fights helped with income to get me back on my feet. I started teaching classes at my gym. I eventually ran a children’s MMA program. I watched that MMA program change the children’s lives and get them out of trouble. I eventually became an MMA gym owner. All with the help of MMA. MMA gave me direction and financially stabilized me. MMA can do the same for people in New York. It can bring in 135 million dollars and create jobs for people that are struggling, much like I did.

A reporter asked about culinary union influence (which has long been blamed by Zuffa as the reason behind New York’s lack of acceptance of MMA), and Leader Morelle denied any interaction with organized labor. The topic of MMA culture creating a negative atmosphere for females was briefly touched upon, but the presence of Carmouche muted that argument.

And then it was over, and Hall, Carmouche, Browne and Epstein, joined by Zuffa’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, left for more meetings and handshakings and photo ops, by now an annual ritual in a war that sees often only inches of ground gained each legislative session.

Will this be the year the State repeals the ban? It’s impossible to say. But the fight rages on.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close up the wall with our lobbying dead!