Things are weird in New York right now. As one of the last places in the nation to resist sanctioning MMA – despite the sport being huge and accepted and everywhere – New York has turned into a sort of Forbidden Zone. It’s a place where Zuffa is suing the state government for not lifting the ban, and threatening big UFC shows at Madison Square Garden if legislators don’t get their act together. It’s a place where for the last ten years a secret organization called the Underground Combat League has been the only game in town. It’s a place where the Association of Boxing Commissions writes to the governor to admonish him for allowing amateur fights to go on with less stringent oversight. If it were anywhere else in the country, you could easily buy a ticket to a UFC event or check out a minor league show. But it’s New York, where there are clandestine vale tudo fights at an undisclosed location one weekend, and another weekend has MMA bouts in a high school gymnasium while police in uniform look on.
In short, it’s crazy.
You could say the craziness was born when New York banned pro MMA bouts back in 1997, but that’s not entirely accurate. Back then, everyone banned the sport – which wasn’t so much a sport as it was a spectacle. No, the lunacy grew forth when the State refused to lift the ban, despite MMA’s dramatic transformation into something far less barbaric and sanctioning nearly everywhere else. That refusal bred underground fights, Sisyphus-like lobbyists perpetually rolling the boulder of change up the legislative hill, and a legal conflict that has gone nowhere.
It’s also given rise to an amateur MMA scene, which, according to the Association of Boxing Commissions, is woefully under-regulated. Is it? Do the thriving amateur leagues in New York following the same rigorous guidelines as their counterparts in New Jersey? When taken in the context of the New York State law that’s on the books, they don’t have to – which is the point. Take, for instance, the Aggressive Combat Championships event from Saturday night in the Bronx, which was the first-ever sanctioned amateur MMA show in the Five Borough. With around 800 spectators cheering on the fights in the cage, it stayed well within the legal boundaries.
So everyone – from other athletic commissions to the UFC to the minor league promoters on the ground to the fans themselves – are waiting patiently for the law to change. Until then, New York remains in a state of flux, and a place where you can watch some decent live MMA fights. That is, as long as you don’t mind the controversy.