Tomorrow the 2015 session of the Connecticut General Assembly comes to a close, putting an end to the dream of truly legalized MMA in the state for another six months.
Oh sure, Connecticut technically became the 49th state to legalize the sport back in 2013, but only technically. The reality is that before the MMA bill became law the only place you could legally see an MMA fight in Connecticut was at one of the state’s Indian tribal resorts, and since the bill became law the only place you will actually ever see an MMA fight in Connecticut is at one of the state’s Indian tribal resorts. Nothing’s changed. According to Mike Kostrzewa, the executive director of the state’s boxing and MMA regulatory body, not only have there still been no MMA events held on non-tribal land in the state; not a single person or organization since 2013 has even applied for a promoter’s license to put one on. It’s almost as if the law never passed.
For this we can all thank a poison pill slipped into a budget bill by anti-MMA legislators on the last day of the 2013 session, the same day the pro-MMA bill was passed—language stating that any promoter putting on an MMA show in the state “shall be liable for any health care costs incurred by such competitor for the diagnosis, care and treatment of any injury, illness, disease or condition resulting from or caused by such competitor’s participation in such match for the duration of such injury, illness, disease or condition.”
So whereas every other state regulatory body in the country, including the two governing Connecticut’s tribal organizations, requires promoters to get insurance for their events (covering ambulance trips, dental emergencies, hospital costs, etc.), the state of Connecticut demands that they pay for all medical problems resulting from their fights in perpetuity. No wonder no one is putting on events in Connecticut. Even the UFC, the richest promoter in the sport, has chosen to avoid the onerous costs demanded by the poison pill, bypassing the XL Center in Hartford with its 16,294 seats and the Webster Arena in Bridgeport with its 10,000 for a 4000-seat sellout at Foxwoods last September.
Which, to be fair, is just fine for the UFC and other MMA promoters. For the UFC and Bellator and local minor-league promotions like Reality Fighting, tribal regulatory bodies have been godsends, grating not only access into otherwise unapproachable markets but also the chance to work with administrators who are more attuned to the needs and attractions of MMA than many other government agencies and therefore less likely to treat the sport like boxing’s ugly little brother.
Which brings us to today, the day before the end of the legislative session. Turns out there’s a bill out there just waiting to be signed into law amending the language of the current legislation: eliminating promoters’ liability to pay health care costs in perpetuity and replacing it with language requiring them to provide insurance to reimburse injured competitors for medical, dental, surgical, and hospital care, bringing it in line with current state boxing regulations and the rules of just about every other MMA regulatory body in the country.
That bill sailed through the Senate’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security in March and the Committee on Insurance and Real Estate in April and was placed on the Senate calendar a week later. Everything appeared to be smooth sailing. Then on May 6th the bill was moved to the “foot” of the senate calendar, and a few weeks later the senate leadership “recommitted” the bill to the Public Safety Committee from whence it came and removed it from their calendar entirely.
According to the State Senate’s own online glossary of terms, “a bill that is recommitted is dead.”
So who killed Senate Bill 901?
Was it Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, who as senate majority leader in 2012 prevented a pro-MMA bill from even coming to a vote, citing concerns about violence and union opposition to Zuffa labor practices (sound familiar, New York?)? Or was it Senator Bob Duff, who, despite co-sponsoring the 2013 pro-MMA bill that became law, may now, as senate majority leader, be beholden to the demands of Mr. Looney and Governor Dannel Malloy? Or was it Malloy himself, who only signed the 2013 MMA bill into law under protest, saying he would never attend a fight or approve of the sport. “Not my cup of porridge,” he said at the time.
And speaking of Malloy, why did he pick Bridgeport Senator Andres Ayala Jr. to be his new commissioner at the Department of Motor Vehicles right when Ayala was starting his second term, mere months before the MMA poison-pill bill came up for reconsideration? Even anti-MMA senators admit they were convinced to allow the pro-MMA bill to pass in 2013 in large part because of the energetic advocacy of Ayala. He was the engine that made the pro-MMA train in Connecticut run. So is that why he was moved up and out? Could it be that Malloy and Looney were worried that Ayala would pull it off again? That he would inspire his fellow senators to vote for SB901? Is that why they shuffled him over to the fucking DMV? And would you be surprised if I told you that Ayala was replaced in the senate by Ed Gomes, who’s compared MMA to street fighting and said he’ll never vote in favor of it?
Are we really surprised, America?
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