The bill had little trouble making it through the Senate in April, passing 43-14. This was the third time the New York State Senate has voted in favor of the bill, only for it to die before reaching the Assembly floor.
“There’s frustration on from colleagues on both sides of the aisle over this not getting voted on,” said Assemblyman Jim Tedisco. “We had multimillion dollar deficits this year and last year. We’re looking for revenue; we’re looking to create jobs, and we’re looking to be competitive with other states.”
As Speaker of the Assembly, Silver controls what bills will or will not make it to the floor for a proper vote. Much could be made of Speaker Silver’s apparent distaste for MMA fighting, but the circumstances in which the bill met its doom are being questioned. A source quoted by the New York Daily News had said an informal poll conducted by Silver indicated that about 60 members of the Assembly had raised their hand when asked who intended to vote in favor of the bill, to about 25 who said they did not. The source also said Silver alleged other members of the Assembly had met with him privately to voice their opposition to the bill, thereby changing the count. His official statement was that the vote seemed “pretty evenly divided.”
“This is a no-brainer as far as bringing in revenue, entertainment and attracting tourism. It’s something that should reach the floor for an up-and-down vote,” said Tedisco.
The bill enjoyed some high-profile support, as co-owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) had publically stated he expected the bill to enjoy “strong bipartisan support,” which was part of the Legalize MMA N.Y. campaign. UFC has been aggressive in their campaign, sending fighters to political events and Capitol Hill to lobby for legalization. Assemblyman Tedisco argues that some politicians might not realize how much of what happens during MMA events is already legal in New York.
“Every single legal maneuver in MMA competition is legal in some other form of marital arts. It’s legal in judo, karate or boxing. For some reason because it’s ‘mixed’ martial arts, some of my colleagues don’t understand this. In fact, there are more deaths in cheerleading and football than mixed martial arts.”
One of UFC’s biggest points of contention centers has been the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones, a native of Rochester, being unable to defend his title in his own home state. UFC also has made no secret their desire to schedule an event at one of the most storied sports venues in history, Madison Square Garden. Top UFC officials expressed their disappointment and expressed little doubt that the bill would pass should it ever be put to a vote.
Locally, concerns that this might push New York-based promotions to surrounding states in hopes of holding a legal, sanctioned MMA event continue to mount. Saratoga County MMA promotion Kaged Kombat has been holding events all across Vermont since 2009. Co-owner Nick Sanzo says he’d love to be able to hold events here in New York, adding that his small business could stand to benefit greatly should the bill ever pass.
“We would have access to all the casinos in New York,” Sanzo said. “For instance Turning Stone would have given us an opportunity to do an event there, but even though they’re a sovereign nation they still respect the rules of New York. Passing the bill would allow us to access a whole new series of venues and markets that we don’t have now.”
As for the issues surrounding fighter safety, Sanzo echoed Assemblyman Tedisco’s sentiments that perhaps it’s time to take another look at what mixed martial arts really is before continuing to deny the bill from reaching a floor vote.
“Fighter safety is the number one thing, just like any sport. Safety is important to all of us. I would hope they view it that way and back away from some of the old school views from back when it first started. It’s changed dramatically.”