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N.Y. fans root to legalize mixed martial arts
Posted on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 11:08 am
by IDMA Editor

Proponents of mixed martial arts are hoping legalization of the sport has a fighting chance in this legislative session.

"It's a recognized sport, and it's growing in popularity," said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, one of the bill's most vocal backers and a co-sponsor of Senate legislation. "It continues to be available on pay-per-view, network and cable TV. When you say you're not allowing it in the state, you're just not allowing the communities to be able to benefit economically right now."

Photo of Senator Joseph A. Griffo - photo credit

Mixed martial arts, also known as cage fighting, is a sport that combines boxing, wrestling and kickboxing. It is illegal in only a handful of states, including New York. Legislators who oppose measures to make it legal in New York say the sport is too violent to be permitted.

"They think we're just guys in a cage beating each other up," said Frank Shamrock, a retired MMA fighter and the unofficial spokesman for the movement. He has traversed the state the past two weeks meeting with legislators, including Mr. Griffo. "I just go, 'Wow, you guys don't know what we're doing.'"

Photo of MMA fighter Ken Shamrock

Mr. Shamrock, who was born Frank A. Juarez III but legally changed his name when he was 21, argues that the sport can bring a community together. He said he saw that in California, where he participated in the first sanctioned MMA fight after a battle to legalize the sport that lasted more than two years. He has moved to New York to bring similar efforts here.

For others, including Mr. Griffo, the bottom line has a dollar sign next to it.

A study that an MMA league commissioned said that legalizing the sport would bring $23 million into state coffers annually, because of taxes on ticket sales from events that would be held and spin-off revenue from hotel stays.

Those benefits could come upstate, Mr. Griffo said. MMA boosters have named Madison Square Garden in New York City their Mecca, but also are promising events upstate, possibly at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, Mr. Griffo said.

Gov. David A. Paterson included the legalization of MMA in his budget last year, but it eventually was removed when faced with Assembly opposition.

Proponents were hoping for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to do the same. But although Mr. Cuomo's budget includes deep cuts, it's short on specifics that could derail its passage.

So the bill's proponents are looking to pass standalone legislation, or they'll wait until later this month, when a revised version of Mr. Cuomo's budget comes out.

The fight, until then, is to educate, Mr. Shamrock said.

"If we present this as a martial art, it's really a no-brainer," he said.

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