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March 24, 2016

NY Assembly OKs lifting of MMA ban

MMABob Ellis/staff photographer
Cruz Johnson, a professional mixed martial arts athlete from Auburn, trains Wednesday at Cortland Elite MMA at the JM McDonald Sports Complex. The state Assembly on Tuesday approved an end to the ban on mixed martial arts.

By TYRONE L. HEPPARD
Staff Reporter
theppard@cortlandstandardnews.net

ALBANY — A huge victory for fans of mixed martial arts came Tuesday when the state Assembly voted to do away with a nearly 20-year ban on the sport.
Made popular by organizers like the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator Fighting Championships, mixed martial arts is a full-contact sport where athletes employ various fighting styles to knock out or force opponents to submit.
MMA was initially banned under the watch of former Gov. George Pataki amid safety concerns in 1997, when the sport’s popularity was growing. At that time, more than 30 states had banned the sport. One by one, though, states reversed their bans, with Connecticut becoming the 49th state to legalize MMA in June 2013.
At the Cortland Elite Mixed Martial Arts gym in the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex, owner Randy “The Wolf” Smith and his pro and amateur fighters were excited about the prospect of the ban being lifted.
“It’s good news, a long time coming,” he said. “Now, my job is to get these guys ready for it.”
In New York state, amateur MMA has been legal but unregulated. Pro fighters had to travel outside New York to fight.
“(The potential lifting of the ban) just made me realize I’m in the sport at the right time,” amateur Mike DeOrio, 26, said Wednesday, fresh off a championship win in Ithaca last week. “All it does is motivate us. Hopefully, we’ll draw more people in.”
Cruz Johnson, 26, just became one of the gym’s professional fighters after three years of training. While he got paid for appearing last week in his last fight in Lincoln, Rhode Island, by the time he paid for travel expenses and licensing fees, he didn’t earn any money.
Cruz said he’s looking forward to is keeping his earnings, but also working in a better-regulated environment, with greater attention to safety, good refereeing and national standards.
Cruz lost his first match, but hopes that being cheered on by family, friends and fans at home will earn him his first pro win.
“That helps big time,” he said. “Ultimately it comes done to the work you put in. But knowing that you have a lot of people that have your back there definitely helps for sure.”
Since 2009, state Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) had managed to get his colleges to approve lifting the ban, most recently in February, but its companion legislation always died in theAssembly.
The Assembly’s move to legalize the sport met little opposition. The 113-25 vote saw bipartisan support to join the other 49 states in lifting the MMA ban. The bill outlines procedures for licensing and taxing MMA events. It also places regulation of the sport under the auspices of the New York State Athletic Commission.
The legislation still has to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which he said he would do, and NYSAC is expected to come forward with rules and regulations within the next four months.
Assembly member Gary Finch (R-Springport) voted to life the ban; Assembly member Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) was absent for the vote.
When the ban is lifted, the state can generate revenue from licensing fees, as well as income from ticket sales, broadcast fees and the economic boon to hotels, restaurants and otherbusinesses.
Finch said Wednesday this is primarily why he voted to lift the ban, adding while Madison Square Garden and other parts of New York City have been floated as major venues, he sees some of that economic fortune finding its way to Central New York.
“I would imagine the new casinos that are going up would be able to have exclusive events of sorts and it would be a draw to them but I’m not sure,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to watch to see how successful it will be.”
Finch said he is not a fan of MMA because of the sport’s violence. However, he sees lifting the ban as a way for the state to better regulate the sport.
“I thought it was an attempt to regulate it to some degree as well as bringing some additional revenue in to the state,” he said. “I think it needs to be regulated and perhaps there could be some advances in the safety of the sport.”
A family emergency kept Lifton out of Albany for the vote, but she said Wednesday she would have voted no.
She admitted she hadn’t done too much research into MMA but from what she has learned, MMA is a vulgar, misogynistic and excessively violent non-sport that is “crude to the Nth degree.”
“It (MMA) doesn’t look like any martial art that I’m familiar with,” she said. “I see no reason to have government sanction this very violent activity. Economic development is not a goodreason to hurt people.”

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