For the past few years the same song has been played and the dancers have spun and twirled in a manner confusing to most – if not all – outsiders, and afterwards, when the song has finished, nothing has changed. That’s right, I’m talking about the New York legislative process, and the efforts by Zuffa, and its legion of lobbyist lackeys, to get sanctioned MMA back into the Empire State. Just what’s been going on? Where do the efforts to get the UFC into Madison Square Garden currently stand? MMA Convert has got you covered with an “official scorecard”.
First, though, a little insight on the legalization process. For a bill to become law in New York, it must first pass through both the State Senate and the Assembly. While it’s in those respective legislative houses, the bills often must pass through relevant committees, such as the Tourism, Arts and Sports Development Committee, Ways and Means, and Codes. After success there, the bills go to the floors of the Senate and Assembly and are voted on. If they pass, the governor must then sign the bill to make it into law.
Now, some history…
- The first and only UFC held in New York was UFC 7, which took place in Buffalo and featured Ken Shamrock taking on Oleg Taktarov. The promotion was supposed to return to the state for UFC 12, but shifting political tides saw the venue change to Alabama at the last minute.
- In 1997, Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill banning all professional combative sports, essentially killing sanctioned MMA in the state.
- In 2008, Zuffa lobbyists tried to push an MMA bill through the Assembly. But their efforts were halted when Tourism, Arts and Sports Development Committee member Assemblyman Bob Reilly wondered aloud “We ban cockfighting and dog fighting – should we allow humans to enter a cage to knee, kick and punch each other?” The bill was shelved for the year.
- In 2009, the bill was revisited, and after a heated debate, Assemblyman Reilly was soundly defeated in his committee by a margin of 14 to six. Soon after, the Assembly voted as a whole, and the MMA bill was passed. Unfortunately, an unrelated (and unforeseen) political coup in the Senate stalled all legislation. Once again, the legalization process was halted.
- In 2010, Governor David Paterson submitted his annual budget proposal, and within it were provisions to legalize – and tax – professional mixed martial arts. Traditionally, any legislation attached to the governor’s budget proposal gets to skip the usual legislative committees and go straight to the floors for a vote. But while the Senate signed off on it, the Assembly did not, so that aspect of the budget was eventually removed. Undaunted, the Senate ended up approving an MMA bill on its own; the Assembly’s version of the bill faded away in committee.
All of which takes us to the present. Where does the legalization process currently stand?
- Despite receiving a $74,000 campaign contribution from Zuffa, newly-elected Governor Andrew Cuomo refused to include provisions for MMA in his budget proposal. In addition, he suggested the state stop paying the salary of the Chairperson of the State Athletic Commission. The current Chairperson of the Athletic Commission, Melvina Lathan, is all for mixed martial arts.
- Both the Senate and Assembly have MMA bills simmering in their legislative cauldrons. Yesterday, the Senate’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Park and Recreation gave their bill a thumbs up. According to Justin Klein over at FightLawyerBlog.com, it’s a good sign that it happened this early in the process, as it decreases the chances that things will get stalled and time will run out. The Senate’s bill must still pass through more committees before the floor votes on it, but it’s expected to pass.
- Depending on who you ask, it seems the Assembly might be the toughest road the MMA bill has to travel. But last month Assemblyman Dean Murray told me himself, “This is the year. If we’re going to do it, it’s going to be this year.” According to Assemblyman Murray, attitudes have shifted among his peers, and he is very optimistic.
So there you have it. Thus far in 2011, there have been setbacks and rays of hope. Today, the UFC is holding a pre-UFC 128 press conference at Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan, and a pro-MMA rally is expected to take place right outside. We’ll see if it – and the efforts of Zuffa, assorted lobbyists, sympathetic legislators and one heck of a grassroots movement – makes a difference.