The Fight to Legalize MMA in New York in 2016 Is Officially Underway

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Photo by Sebastian Gabriel/EPA

If 2016 is finally the year New York legalizes professional mixed martial arts, it will all start in the State Assembly’s Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development. That’s where hope begins, the place of possibility. And hope is all we humans have to go on in this weary world, especially humans who’ve been waiting 17 years to see a professional MMA fight in New York. Hope in the face of historical precedent and stinging disappointment and inevitable heartbreak.

And there are already signs of small hope in the upcoming 2016 legislative MMA debate. On Friday, the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development announced that it will be holding a public hearing on Dec. 11 to hear testimony about the potential injuries associated with combat sports. This is good news because any time scientists have gotten together to determine which sport is more dangerous, boxing or MMA, MMA has come out smelling like a rose (a bloody, broken-finger-filled rose, but a rose). Just a few weeks ago a study was published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine confirming what MMA fans have known for years: that boxers are more likely than mixed martial artists to suffer serious injuries like concussions, broken noses, and retinal detachment. That report recently made its way to The New York Times, so only the most rabidly anti-MMA New York government official would fail to cite it during a public hearing about the legalization of MMA in New York.

And that’s where the bad news comes in: The head of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development, Margaret Markey, may be the most rabidly anti-MMA government official in New York. Margaret Markey has been against the legalization of MMA since she was first elected in 1998, citing concerns about health and safety, even as doctors and scientists have addressed those concerns in study after study. Back during the great MMA debate of 2013, she said, "I have heard no evidence presented in the current push to legalize mixed martial arts that changes my opposition to this violent form of entertainment. … What I do hear from leading experts on brain injury and disease is repeated concern about the long-term health consequences for participants. Even though this sport is more brutal, I don't see MMA advocates giving the same level of attention to player health that is now being seriously addressed, for example, in professional hockey and football.”  

So, the head of the committee holding a public hearing on the health and well-being of combat athletes to determine whether a bill legalizing MMA should come to a vote believes that MMA is more brutal than hockey and that professional football is an example of how seriously risks to player health are addressed in American sports. Professional football!

And if you think things have changed in the last two-and-a-half years, if you hold out hope that the numerous studies conducted since 2013 proving that MMA is reasonably safe (and the numerous studies proving that football is a menace) have changed Margaret Markey’s mind, let me remind you that the assemblywoman was a co-sponsor of a bill introduced during last year’s legislative session (the session when legalization was finally supposed to happen!) that would have banned all public and for-profit MMA events in the state for two years, “notwithstanding any law, rule or regulation to the contrary.” Even amateur MMA events, which are currently legal in New York, would have been pushed back into the shadows and dark alleys of the New York sporting world if Miss Markey had had her way. This is our gatekeeper.

So, keep hoping, MMA fans in New York, who have been waiting forever for the chance to see a professional fight in their hometowns. And keep hoping, UFC, which announced in September that it had booked Madison Square Garden for an event in April. Hope is a wonderful thing, the greatest thing. An adorable, hilarious, heartbreaking thing. 


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