Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons
CORTLAND, N.Y. – Will 2016 be the year New York State allows professional mixed martial arts fights? That is the million dollar question that will be answered in the next few months.
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New York is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t allow professional MMA fights, largely due to the violent nature of the sport.
That ban, however, has been contested in the past six years, with state lawmakers consistently pushing for legislation that would legalize the sport.
While the senate routinely approves MMA legislation, the state assembly has shown little to no interest in allowing the sport to be legalized. The assembly has rarely voted on the issue, and recently, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie prevented the matter from reaching the floor for a vote. With a Republican majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the assembly, there’s a clear divide on the issue.
James L. Seward, R-Oneonta, whose district covers Cortland County, appeared in Albany last month with former UFC fighter Chris Weidman, who has advocated for legalizing MMA in New York. Seward contends that legalizing professional MMA fights would bring in much-needed tax revenue for New York State.
"By legalizing the sport, we will be able to take advantage of an estimated $135 million in revenue and enact proper safety regulations for professional and amateur fighters,” Sen. Seward said in a recent news release.
Randy “The Wolf” Smith, owner of Cortland Elite MMA and Fitness, has many years of experience in the cage under his belt and holds strong beliefs on where the sport is headed.
“It benefits the fighters a lot because they get to fight in their home state, usually close to home, as opposed to always having to travel to their opponent’s home training ground,” Smith said. “In the pros you’re mainly paid by how many tickets you sell, so for guys driving six or seven hours away, it’s tough to generate money. If the guys can fight at home and sell more tickets, it’s a win-win situation.”
Aside from bringing potential economic benefits to the state, MMA advocates have pointed to studies showing the sport may actually be safer than boxing.
In a study conducted by the University of Alberta, researchers found that 59.4 percent of MMA fighters received some type of injury every fight as compared to 49 percent of boxers. Of those 59.4 percent of MMA fighters to get hurt, only 4.2 percent will be severely injured; for boxers, 7.1% will be seriously hurt each fight. The study also found that boxers are more likely to suffer severe brain trauma and concussions.
For his part, Smith argues that the sport has evolved since he first became interested in MMA 20 years go.
“The sport was a lot dirtier back then, with eye gouging and biting and all that sort of stuff, which you rarely see nowadays.”
The state senate recently passed legislation to legalize mixed martial arts in New York State. It remains unclear if lawmakers in the state assembly will follow suit.
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