New York Legislators Swear They’re Going to Move Fast on MMA Next Year

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Image via Flickr user Several seconds

I think it’s fair to say that the whole MMA in New York situation has become something of a Rorschach Test for long-suffering fans, a way to figure out just what kind of personality you possess. Do you look at the six years of failed legislative action in the New York State Assembly—in particular this last heartbreaker of a legislative session, which saw the fall of an anti-MMA assembly leader, the rise of his pro-MMA successor, and the promise (at last) of enough votes to (at last) make New York the 50th (and last) state to legalize professional mixed martial arts, and still failed to deliver even a debate, much less a vote—and hold out hope? Do you see all that failure and all those last-minute broken promises and say to yourself, “Next year! Next year is our year!” Like a true believer, do you have faith even in the face of the most predictable, backbreaking disappointment? Or have you grown cynical? With every passing year and every empty press conference and every political assurance that the votes are finally whipped and wrangled and ready to go, followed by the all-too-predictable kick in the head, do you find your faith fading away? Have you resigned yourself and your love of MMA to cruel fate and given up believing even in possibility?

Well, prepare yourself to jump on the emotional roller coaster of potential heartbreak again. Democratic leaders in the State Assembly say they’re already gearing up to revive MMA legislation when the Legislature reconvenes six months from now. And this time they swear, they absolutely swear, they think it’s very possible they can get it done, maybe, and quickly this time. Trust them.

The key to getting done what has never gotten done before, says Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, is to move fast and not let the MMA bill languish until the very end of the session, like it did this past year. Despite assurances from Morelle and other Democratic Party leaders that their caucus had enough votes to approve the legislation during the 2015 session, the bill was swamped by last-minute negotiations over an unrelated omnibus bill that also pushed the Assembly into an extended session. By the time that omnibus had been approved, fed-up legislators had started going home, meaning there simply weren’t enough Democratic assembly members left in Albany to vote for MMA even if it had made it to the Assembly floor.

Our beloved sport: doomed by poor scheduling and the pull of summer vacation plans.

But this year will be different! Just ask the New York State Democratic Party leadership.

“My goal is to have this considered earlier rather than later so it doesn’t get caught up in other issues,” Joseph Morelle said in a burst of pre-pre-pre-session optimism late last week. “I just don’t want it to linger for six months and have to keep coming back to the question of whether we’re doing it or not.”

As for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the man we all thought would be MMA’s savior after he took over for disgraced former Speaker and strident anti-MMA advocate Sheldon Silver in February, he once again seems to be taking a “passive” approach to the legalization issue, leaving it Morelle to corral the necessary votes to get the bill out of the Democratic caucus and onto the floor of the Assembly, where (and we can’t repeat this enough) the bill is guaranteed to pass.

“I think it’s very close to having support in Assembly,” said Heastie. “But I think it will be a big topic once we get back to Albany.”

See, skeptical MMA fan: The speaker of the assembly of New York thinks MMA will be a “big topic” next January! Isn’t that enough to get your heart stirring again?

The new wrinkle in this otherwise painfully repetitive (eternally recurring) tragedy is the appearance of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. Well, not entirely new. The Nevada-based union has been around the MMA legislation fight in New York since the beginning, when it started using opposition to pro-MMA legislation as leverage against the Fertitta brothers, who own both the UFC and the only non-union casinos in Nevada. But whatever your personal feelings about unions in general or the Culinary Workers specifically, if nothing else, the union’s announcement last week that they had started a campaign to organize mixed martial artists adds something new to the debate over MMA legalization in New York. And at this point, six fucking years in, anything new—anything at all—is a good thing,

Exactly how things will change is still unclear. Is Local 226 (along with the Teamsters Local 986) actually interested in unionizing MMA fighters, or are they just using the threat of an organizing campaign to get the Fertittas to back down on their anti-union stance for casino workers? And most interesting of all, if, by some miracle, the culinary union were able to unionize fighters (a notoriously individualistic bunch) and convince the UFC and Bellator and all the other professional promotions out there to acknowledge the collective bargaining rights of those fighters, would the union call off their opposition to legalized MMA in New York at last? Could this further entanglement actually turn out to be the extrication we’ve all been hoping for? At the time this story went to press a spokesperson for the Culinary Workers Union wasn’t saying, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed. Because we’re gluttons for punishment. 


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