January 21, 2010
Competitors back legalization of mixed martial arts
Proponents say governor’s budget proposal to allow sport in New York long overdue
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Tompkins Cortland Community College student Dan Foster, left, spars with Chris Hall Monday night in a mixed martial arts class taught by Erik Charles at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex.
Gov. David Paterson’s plans to sanction mixed martial arts competitions in his Executive Budget proposal is long overdue, say local professionals who compete in the sport across the country.
When state lawmakers voted about 15 years ago to make mixed martial arts illegal, the sport lacked half the rules and regulations it has today, said John Ryan, program director for CNY MMA in Cortland.
“From what I’ve read and heard, the main motivation is money,” Ryan said of the move to legalize competitions in the state. “It’s a shame that it came to this — that that’s their reason — but on the other hand, we’re glad it’s happening.”
The proposed sanctioning of mixed martial arts would require approval from the Legislature, which would also have to repeal the existing ban.
A spokesman for Paterson’s office said the state’s boxing and wrestling admissions tax would be expanded to encompass mixed martial arts, which could generate approximately $2 million annually for the state.
The boxing and wrestling admissions tax is 8.5 percent of all gross receipts from ticket sales, the spokesman said.
Regulation of matches would fall under the state Athletic Commission, the spokesman said.
Revenues from matches include licensing and promoting fees paid to the state Athletic Commission, medical coverage for fighters and merchandising revenues, said Erik Charles of Cortland, a fighter for more than 20 years.
But the financial implications are not the sport’s only attraction, Charles said.
“The unpredictability is what draws people in,” he said.
Pitting various fighting styles against each other — boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiujitsu — makes it difficult to predict how a match will turn out, he said, adding this was the sport’s original intent.
Charles, who teaches nightly classes at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex, said another big draw for his students is the simple desire to get in shape and have fun.
“The gym is boring — this sport isn’t boring,” Charles said.
Charles and about 24 others who train with CNY MMA are sanctioned to compete in six states. Charles said he finds it odd they can fight in matches in that many states, but not the one they live in.
When it was made illegal in New York state, concerns of safety for competitors and influence the sport would have on society were prevalent reasons for wanting to ban it, Ryan said.
Mixed martial arts employs trained, willing participants and safety rules are strictly enforced, Ryan said.
“If you look like you can’t defend yourself, the match is over,” he said.
He said mixed martial arts should not be considered, in terms of safety, any different than other recognized sports such as football or wrestling.
Competitors are given regular medical checkups before matches and they must meet specific health and physical requirements to fight. Matches are also organized by weight class, something that was not done 15 years ago.
“Now that that’s in place, it’s a little more palpable to the legislators,” Charles said.
In other states, there has been a track record establishing its safety and the matches draw huge crowds and viewers for televised events, Charles said.
“This is obviously something people want,” he said.
If the state sanctions mixed martial arts competitions, a match could be held at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex, Charles said.
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