The state legislature in Albany finally withdrew its ban on mixed martial arts. New York state held the peculiar distinction of being the only state in the Union to ban the popular sport. Now that the ban is legally lifted, the multi-disciplinary sport has taken off in New York state like a rocket.
Madison Square Garden will host a major UFC event in a few days. The title fight, between McGregor and Alvarez is the most important and well publicized of the year. It will be the largest venue for mixed martial arts in the state since the repeal of the ban. Both fans and participants expect the venue to be sold out, and media attention is rising over this new wrinkle in the Big Apple sports scene.
“This is a great day for mixed martial arts in America” claims Vince Hamato, the sports director at UFC-Albany. “It’s just a shame that it had to wait this long to really catch on fire here. It’s been a great attraction on the East Coast for the past fifteen years, and New York has certainly missed out on a lot of income and entertainment because of the ill-advised ban. But now that it’s over, I predict a massive amount of interest in the sport and a growing list of professional participants.”
The lifting of the ban is also seen as good news to fighters from New York who have had to travel out of state to participate in the sport legally.
“I can’t believe it’s finally happening” says middleweight Sam Harmonson, a native of New York state. “Not only will this cut down on my time away from my family, but the money is better in New York, especially for pay-per-view, than in almost any other state!”
Governor Andrew Cuomo was persuaded by MMA and UFC lobbyists, as well as the sport’s many enthusiasts, to rescind the ban after becoming convinced it would bring a steady stream of sport-related income into the state. It took the state legislature almost two months to create and pass the legislation allowing this to happen. The state Treasury Department estimates the sport could bring in an additional $137 million in annual revenue.
To assuage concerns about the sport’s potential for violent injury, a provision has been added mandating that fighters be insured for no less than fifty-thousand dollars for injuries and an additional fifty-thousand for death benefits.
Amateur mixed martial arts events are also included in the insurance requirements, which has some small-time operators worried. Eddie Brankowski, a fight promoter in Brooklyn, says “The big promoter can afford the insurance rates, but in the smaller venues these rates are going to discourage anyone from getting a start in the sport here in New York. They’ll still wind up having to get their feet wet out of state before they can fight back here.”
Smaller promoters are currently lobbying the state legislature to tweak the law to allow for amateur bouts in the state at a lesser insurance rate. So far, lawmakers are not convinced this is a good idea. According to Brankowski: “We’ve heard back from some of the legislators, and they just don’t want to mess any further with the new law. But we’ll keep the pressure up; after all, New York state is known for some of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the United States. We should keep that home advantage if at all possible.”