After 19 long years, New York’s ban on mixed martial arts has finally been lifted. On Tuesday afternoon, the New York State Assembly voted 113 in favor and 25 against to regulate the sport, opening the doors for legal events to take place in New York City.
It’s important to note here that New York’s ban on the sport didn’t actually keep unsafe MMA events from happening in the state. A ridiculous loophole in the laws allowed amateur combat sports events to be held, and there were numerous small promotions that ran shady underground fight events with very few safety protocols in place.
The UFC has been pushing to lift the ban and bring the sport under the umbrella of a governing athletic commission since 2008. But year after year, the bill died unattended in one committee chamber or another, never making it to the state Assembly for a final vote. 2013 looked like the year it would happen, with the UFC aggressively lobbying to ensure the bill would have the votes it needed once it was passed on to the Assembly. But when it finally was, Assembly head Sheldon Silver refused to add the bill to that year’s legislative agenda.
The same thing happened again in 2014 and the UFC was not happy, claiming Silver was blocking the bill as a favor to the Las Vegas Culinary Union. According to UFC president Dana White, the whole thing boiled down to a fight between Culinary Local 226 and UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta over the unionization of their casinos. The UFC changed tact, filing several lawsuits against the state of New York claiming the ban was unconstitutional.
Whatever the reasoning was behind Silver blocking the bill, the general understanding behind the scenes was that so long as he ran the New York Assembly, mixed martial arts would remain banned in New York. But then something fortuitous happened: Silver was arrested in January of 2015 on multiple charges of corruption, extortion and fraud. He resigned shortly thereafter, raising fans’ hope that maybe now we could have an event in New York City instead of having to cross the river to New Jersey.
And now it’s happened: mixed martial arts are legal in New York, and legal in all 50 states. The UFC has been chomping at the bit to hold an event in Madison Square Gardens, and I’m sure we’ll be getting a date once the dust settles and the New York State Athletic Commission gets itself organized. As per the legislation, they’ll have 120 days to set everything up. I wonder who the UFC will book for their historic show…