New York City certainly likes to think of itself as the epicenter of sports. Competitions at venues including Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Citi Field and Barclay Center have rabidly loyal fans.
But for years, there has been one fight New York can’t win – the ability to host MMA pro competition. In fact, it’s the only place in the United States that can’t. And while there are any number of gyms and training programs in Manhattan where athletes can learn the skills, as well as multiple opportunities for amateur competition, there is no place where professional-level fights can be held under law.
“That’s right,” noted the blog, TitleMMA, “the most populous, baddest big city with the ultimate tough-guy image does not allow professional mixed martial arts events to take place legally.”
Certainly, there has been no lack of growth in the sport – meaning no lack of opportunities for the economic impact pro competition could bring. A recent report by the Sports Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) showed 2,255,000 core participants. Live online and televised coverage of fights is similarly booming, but NYC remains untouched.
The current ban, which has been in place since 1997 (it went into law in the time of Governor George Pataki, in other words), has seen multiple challenges over the years. Its newest fight, however, may be its biggest yet.
According to Yahoo! Sports, U.S. women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, perhaps one of the most high-profile athletes in the sport today, met privately with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as several other state political leaders in order to help push MMA's legalization. In fact, Rousey simultaneously waged a full-scale media blitz, appearing on the Tonight Show, Good Morning America and more.
"I really feel optimistic this year," Rousey told GMA host Robin Roberts. "I've talked to the governor. I feel like he's in our corner. It’s passed six years in a row in the Senate [and] it’s never been brought to a vote yet in the Assembly. I think it will this year.”
When the powerful then-Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver was indicted on federal corruption charges in January, the possibility arose that the sport finally would be legalized in the Empire State.
For decades, Silver had been unrelenting in his fight to keep the sport out of NYC. The bill to legalize sanctioned MMA has never made it to the Assembly because of his presence. Now, with Silver out of the mix, the path to MMA legalization in New York appears to be open, and so, too, would be the holy grail of venues, Madison Square Garden.
Part of Rousey’s argument is that the legalization of the sport on a professional level will give it something it currently lacks – standardization – which necessarily creates a series of rules and regulations that govern and protect athletes in competition.
"I think over 1,600 New Yorkers competed in MMA just this last year, but only in amateur events,” Rousey noted. “So there was no athletic commission to do any kind of medical testing or drug testing. Even the referees aren’t educated. (New York City) is the most dangerous place in the U.S. to do MMA. And if someone gets hurt, it’ll be on the hands of the politicians who didn’t take the proper steps to protect them."