New York's MMA Bill Headed To Assembly. Backers Optimistic

A bill that would lift the ban on mixed martial arts fighting in New York passed in the state Senate yesterday 43-14 -- and backers are optimistic it will pass in the Assembly, despite opposition from Assemblyman Bob Reilly.

This is the third consecutive year a bill lifting the ban on MMA fighting was passed in the Senate since the ban was enacted in 1997 under the regime of former Governor George Pataki. The bill has never passed in the Assembly, though.

"We are hopeful the third time will be the charm with the State Assembly. The bill received overwhelming and bipartisan support and we would especially like to recognize the leadership of the Senate sponsor Joseph Griffo," Ultimate Fighting Championship CEO Lorenzo Fertitta says in an email to the Voice.

In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Reilly expressed his objection to lifting the ban on the bare-knuckle fights. He's concerned that organizations like UFC don't do enough to prevent or treat concussions that he says happen frequently in MMA fights.

From Reilly's letter:

While UFC officials and proponents argue that the type of head injuries suffered by MMA fighters are mild compared to the repeated hits to the head of other major sports including boxing and football, the evidence suggests otherwise. That is, powerful knockout blows, repeated head trauma and concussions have serious consequences on the long term health of athletes. A recent study by National Geographic documents the severity of the hits by MMA fighters which exceed all other sports. Additionally, as MMA is a relatively new phenomenon, there have been no real long term studies such as those conducted by the NFL to indicate the impact to the health of aging or retired fighters.

After years of lobbying to lift the ban, the UFC sued the state last year, claiming MMA fighting is public entertainment -- that it's "expressive activity" -- and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

"While there surely are spectators who watch solely because of their misconceived hopes of seeing 'violence,' " UFC says in its lawsuit, "countless fans watch M.M.A. because of the variety of positive messages conveyed."

Fertitta acknowledges the challenges of getting the bill passed in the Assembly, but says MMA proponents are optimistic it will pass.

"Over the next two months, we will focus our efforts on convincing Assembly leadership that this bill, now sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Morelle - who is a Monroe County native just like UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones - should be brought to the floor of the Assembly for a vote, where we are convinced it will have strong bipartisan support," Fertitta says.

Fertitta goes on, sayin that "on Saturday, New York's Jon Jones will defend his crown against New York's Rashad Evans for the UFC light heavyweight championship of the world in Atlanta, GA. I know both fighters regret this fight is not taking place in New York, as do millions of loyal New York UFC fans. I hope the next fight for both fighters will take place in their home state."

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