The push to legalize mixed martial arts in New York is now being
led by the state’s top official.
Governor David Paterson unveiled a state budget proposal Tuesday
that includes a bill that would nullify a 13-year-old ban on MMA in
the Empire State as a way of raising sorely needed revenue.
“Currently, 40 States safely regulate the sport of mixed martial
arts and enjoy local and statewide economic benefits associated
with the conduct of mixed martial arts events,” reads a summary
from Paterson’s office of his revenue proposals. “While New York’s
ban on professional combative sports would be removed, conduct of
the sport would be carefully regulated.”
Paterson’s proposal means that legalization of MMA will be taken up
as part of the annual state budget process, which has to be
completed by April 1. The timeline is much stricter than it would
be if an individual legislator proposed it.
If the Assembly passes the bill by April 1, Marc Ratner, the UFC’s
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, said that it could take five
to six months for the New York State Athletic Commission to get up
to speed and the earliest a MMA event could be held in New York
would be fourth quarter of this year.
A budget summary from the governor’s office estimates that
legalizing MMA will put $2.1 million in the state’s coffers in the
2010-11 fiscal year, which runs from April 1, 2010 to March 31,
2011. New York is facing an estimated $7.5 billion budget deficit.
Paterson’s legislation proposes an 8.5 percent gate tax on MMA
events, one of the highest in states where the sport is regulated.
The bill that passed in neighboring Massachusetts last month
imposes a 4 percent gate tax, as does Nevada. New York’s gate tax
for boxing events is 3 percent. UFC brass scoffed at an earlier New
York proposal that called for a 10 percent gate tax.
The Assembly still has to debate the bill and vote to approve it.
Only one member of the 150-member Assembly, Bob Reilly of the
state’s 109th district, has been outspoken in his intent to vote
against MMA legalization. Reilly’s disapproval stalled progress of
the bill in an Assembly committee two years ago; last year the bill
didn’t get to a vote because of a political stalemate unrelated to
The effort to legalize in New York has been the most palpable of
that in any other state, with everyone from promoters to lobbyists
to documentary filmmakers pushing it. The Ultimate Fighting
Championship has held only event in New York, UFC 7 in 1995 in
Buffalo, headlined by a Ken Shamrock vs. Oleg Taktarov
The UFC, under its prior owners Semaphore Entertainment Group,
managed to get the sport legalized in New York in 1996 through the
help of prominent lobbyist James Featherstonhaugh.
But a series of articles in The New York Times, coupled with an
announcement by the defunct Extreme Fighting organization that it
planned to run in hallowed Madison Square Garden, put pressure on
politicians to justify their votes in favor of a still-unrefined
sport. Soon Governor George Pataki was proposing a ban, and nearly
every Assembly member who had voted to legalize the sport changed
their positions. The ban was passed in 1997. The activity forced
the last-minute relocation of UFC 12 from Niagara Falls to Dothan,
Pataki has since had a public change of heart. "With more rigorous
oversight, training and medical requirements -- mixed martial arts
has made considerable strides to ensure the safety of
participants,” he said recently through a spokesman.
Paterson’s bill legalizes MMA by adding “professional mixed martial
arts” to sections of state law that govern athletic commission
oversight of boxing, and adds some new sections specific to
The bill calls upon an advisory board to draft regulations and
standards for the physical examinations of MMA fighters as well as
boxers. It also calls for the board to advise the commission on
“any study of equipment, procedures or personnel which will, in
their opinion, promote the safety of boxing participants and mixed
martial arts participants.”
In addition to the gate tax, the bill also imposes a $500 fee on
promoters who acquire a license to hold an MMA event. Promoters
must also pay license fees, which vary depending on the size of the
arena in which they will promote, from $500 (not more than 2,500
seats) to $3,500 (more than 25,000 seats). Fighters would be
charged a $50 license fee.
The bill has its quirks.
It bans MMA fights from buildings “wholly used for religious
services.” It also requires anyone seeking a commission license to
submit fingerprints so the commission can run a criminal background
check. The commission can suspend or revoke the license of someone
convicted of a crime or who “has not acted in the best interests of
mixed martial arts.” It also requires promoters to list ticket
prices on every poster and advertisement.