Zuffa scored a big win in their lawsuit against New York today, paving the way for the organization to legally hold a UFC event in the state almost immediately and regardless of whether or not the ban on professional mixed martial arts is lifted by the legislature.
In what was supposed to be a day of oral arguments pertaining to the State Attorney General’s most recent motion to dismiss, attorney John M. Schwartz – representing the Attorney General’s office – acknowledged unequivocally that the law prohibiting pro MMA did not apply to amateur versions of the sport, and that as per the statute, a pre-approved third-party sanctioning body could oversee MMA events in the state. The admission of the latter prompted the counsel representing Zuffa’s interests to say that if that were truly the case, then there’d be no further need to pursue the lawsuit – which in turn prompted the presiding Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S District Court of the Southern District of New York to push both sides to immediately settle.
The statute banning professional MMA in New York was enacted in 1997, at a time when fighting in a cage was more spectacle than sport. But MMA has evolved since then, and with the inclusion of a plethora of rules and a variety of weight classes, sanctioning can be attained in nearly every other state in the country. New York remains one of the last holdouts. Efforts to have the ban repealed by lobbying the legislature have stalled each year since 2008; Zuffa’s lawsuit against the State of New York, citing Constitutional violations, was filed in November, 2011.
Notwithstanding whether a settlement is reached, the door is now open for Zuffa – or any other MMA promotion – to circumvent the ban by utilizing one of the pre-approved sanctioning bodies enumerated in the statute. Those sanctioning bodies include the World Karate Association (since renamed the World Kickboxing Association, a.k.a. the “WKA”), the Professional Karate Association and the U.S. Judo Association, among others.
Only a few of the organizations listed are currently still active, and while the WKA has been responsible for sanctioning professional kickboxing events in New York for years, a recent letter sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo by the Association of Boxing Commissions blasted the state for placing sanctioning responsibility in the hands of organizations who have “failed to meet the health and safety standards that the Association believes are necessary.” Regardless, under the 1997 law and by the Attorney General’s own admission, sanctioning by a third-party organization is a viable way around the ban. In addition, as long as the law remains on the books, the New York State Athletic Commission has no regulatory authority over MMA and would therefore have no oversight over such events.
“We’ll take it,” said UFC in-house counsel Timothy Bellamy, who was present at today’s proceedings. “We’d rather have the state lift the ban and we go that route first, but we’ll know in the next two months if that’s going to happen.” If it doesn’t, said Bellamy, then the UFC would use the third-party-sanctioning option.
In January, UFC president Dana White promised a UFC at Madison Square Garden this coming November. It seems that event may now very well happen.
Follow Jim Genia on Twitter.