For a state that prides itself on “being first,” it’s hard to believe that New York took this long to get with the program. Since 2013, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts had been legal in all 49 other states and every other North American territory besides the Empire State. That finally changed on Tuesday, when the New York State Assembly passed a bill to legalize MMA by a vote of 113-25.
It’s about damn time.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker and an avid fan of MMA, it baffled me why we were the lone state to not allow the sport to be sanctioned. I used to always think about it logistically: if 49 of your peers were describing something to you by saying, “This isn’t as bad as you think, it’s actually pretty good and we’re all benefiting from it,” wouldn’t that logic alone be enough to convince you to reevaluate your opinion? It just felt like New York was behind the times, like my home state was stuck in the Stone Age –except not really, because people probably fought in prehistoric New York all the time. It left me confused, like…
MMA was banned in New York in 1997 by then-governor George Pataki when it was viewed as “human cockfighting.” Back then, it was a brutal and sometimes barbaric sport. Over time, though, rules and regulations have been adopted to make it safer. I won’t lie, the fights can still be brutal and bloody and hard to watch at times. But the way some on the Assembly floor talked about MMA, you’d think it was some sort of gladiator fight to the death or something.
For me, of course I was drawn to the sport because of the entertainment aspect; the unpredictability of having a fight end by a punch, kick, knee, elbow or a submission was fascinating to me. But as I continued watching I developed an appreciation for the athletes who have the mental fortitude to compete as an MMA fighter. It takes a lot to train and master multiple martial arts disciplines and then to step inside a cage and go up against someone else dedicated their life to the sport just as you did. Those athletes have the right to fight in their hometown.
In the UFC, the biggest and most popular MMA promotion, some of the top fighters hail from New York. Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, one of the sports most popular fighters who’ll challenge for the title in April, is from upstate in Endicott. Former middleweight champ Chris Weidman, who will look to reclaim his belt in June, is a native son of Long Island. Former lightweight titleholder and current featherweight contender Frankie Edgar is from New Jersey but his entrance music is “Kick In The Door” by Biggie Smalls, so we’ll claim him as well. New Yorkers Aljamain Sterling, Al Iaquinta, Dennis Bermudez, Uriah Hall and Gian Villante are all top-15 fighters in their respective weight-classes.
When the UFC makes its debut at Madison Square Garden, once dubbed as the mecca of fighting, all those fighters should be featured on the card. It can be billed as “New York vs. the World,” the same way it was New York vs. the world when it came to legalizing MMA. With that no longer being the case, let New York fight, not for the sake of being stubborn, but for pride.
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