Bill passes with 43 votes, heads to State Assembly for approval.
For the third time in seven years, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would remove the 15-year old ban on live professional Mixed Marial Arts (MMA).
The ban was instituted in 1997 when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) marketed itself as a "no holds barred" sport. Since then the league has changed ownership and implemented stricter fighter safety initiatives that they say are more rigorous than professional boxing.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo. He said bringing MMA competions to New York would have a "tremendous impact" on the economy. "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" added Griffo. The bill will have to go to the State Assembly before it's passed, where speaker Sheldon Silver is reportedly against it.
"I'm cautiously optimistic" said Marc Ratner, Vice President of Regulatory and Government Affairs for the UFC. "We've got this far before. We've never been able to garner an actual floor vote. I feel we have the votes to pass it in the Assembly."
While some politicians are promoting the economic impact of a possible Madison Square Garden title bout, the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts New York's Stephen Koepfer said it's really the smaller MMA leagues that will generate income for the state.
After looking at New Jersey's legalization of MMA, Koepfer said "You're talking about 79 shows over two years with only two of them being the UFC. So those 77 other shows are what people don't understand are the biggest part of the legalization here. That's the real economic impact, that's what's going to help the smaller towns."
A former fighter from one of those small towns inspired Senator Griffo to sponsor the bill. Matt Hamill, who is deaf from birth, was a former high school wrestler who turned pro as a UFC fighter. "It was a result of his effort and talking to him. I think it was mainly through that association that I undertoke my strategy and the direction I took in sponsoring the bill" said Griffo.
This Saturday, a UFC title bout between fighters Rashad Evans and Jon Jones will take place in Atlanta, Georgia. Evans and Jones are both Western New York natives who haven't been able to fight in front of their hometown fans.
Last November, Zuffa, the UFC's majority owner filed a lawsuit against the state in Manhattan federal court saying the ban violated its free speech rights under the First Amendment.