New York Poised to End Longtime Ban on Professional MMA

March 22, 2016 Updated: March 22, 2016
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ALBANY, N.Y.—New York is poised to end its ban on professional mixed martial arts, the last state to prohibit the combat sport.

Conducted inside a cage or other enclosure with a referee present, MMA bouts end when one fighter quits or gets knocked out, or else judges decide after 15 or 25 minutes of fighting who the winner is.

The New York Assembly plans to vote this week, following years of leaving the ban intact after critics complained the sport is too violent. That Democrat-controlled chamber approved it in 2007 then subsequently balked. The Republican-controlled Senate, initially reluctant, has voted to legalize it for the past seven years.

Assembly committee votes are scheduled on Tuesday, with a floor vote expected later in the day, Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland said.

One opponent was UNITE HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, publicly citing American Medical Association opposition and the potential social costs of teens imitating fighters. One consistent advocate is Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s largest U.S. promotion, whose backers are major owners of non-union Station Casinos in Las Vegas.

In this April 18, 2012, file photo, Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, right talks with mixed martial arts athletes Ronda Rousey, center, and Nick Catone at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
In this April 18, 2012, file photo, Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, right talks with mixed martial arts athletes Ronda Rousey, center, and Nick Catone at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

UFC has its eyes on hosting a major fight card late this year at Madison Square Garden and predicts there will be other professional shows next year in Brooklyn, Buffalo and smaller cities.

Fighters wear small, fingerless gloves and little else. They punch, kick, elbow, grapple, knee, trip, tackle, slam, and choke each other inside a cage.

Advocates say it has evolved from rougher early days with more rules to protect fighters. Meanwhile, it’s on television, and fighters train and amateurs compete in New York. Rules prohibit biting, eye gouging, head butts, finger bending and many other fouls.

The legislation would put MMA under the control of the State Athletic Commission, which regulates professional boxing with drug testing, officials and ringside doctors. It would have to prepare to do the same for mixed martial arts.

Recently added legislative provisions would increase required insurance for injured fighters and authorize studying a funding mechanism for long-term care of fighters who develop degenerative brain conditions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed legalizing the sport in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, noting thousands of New Yorkers already attend dozens of unregulated amateur matches by unlicensed promoters who would also come under government control.