One component of Mixed Martial Arts, (MMA) is brutality with severity of injury with the participants in a cage. The pro boxing community has been conscious of that aspect and never an advocate of MMA invading their territory. A well known boxing Hall of Fame promoter has more than once knocked the competition that has drawn the younger boxing fan away from boxing to MMA,
Then there are the boxing promoters who are thrilled that MMA cleared a major path and ready to debut soon at venues in New York State. A few days ago the New York State Assembly cleared a hurdle and passed legislation that enables the sport of MMA, vastly promoted by UFC,to debut at venues in New York City and the Empire State,
All that remains is the signature of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, expected in a matter of days. Then there are the meetings and regulations that are implemented by the NYS Athletic Commission that includes coordinating their procedures with promoters who have been itching to showcase their sport at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But that last hurdle was the toughest to clear, and New York became the final state to give their blessings and welcome MMA. It was the finale of a three year battle of organizing and of course politics played a role in the stalemate.
“What a long winding road it took,” Marc Ratner said. The once and always efficient head of the reputed Nevada State Athletic Commission works hand in hand with Dana White the owner of UFC, (Ultimate Fight Championship) and oversaw the long attempt to get MMA approval in New York State.
“It took almost eight years but it’s great for MMA,” he said. “As Jerry Garcia sang, ‘Whata Long Strange Trip it’s Been,’” And it was a long ride to get approval as Ratner made numerous trips to Albany from Las Vegas Nevada and lobbied as to why MMA should get approval.
Besides the safety issue of brutality, that was addressed numerous times, Ratner would advocate that safety was always a concern. But MMA and the UFC have the best medical personnel at ringside and like boxing, which Ratner has vast knowledge about, there is the conscious of concussions and syndromes.
Over the years, MMA competitors and promoters have been conscious of safety and with the exception of excessive blood, a broken wrist or hand, or leg, there have been no fatalities in the sport. So, besides the brutality of MMA competition there has always been a question as to why it took so long to clear a hurdle and get the sport clearance to compete in New York.
On one hand there was opposition from those up in Albany who believed brutality and violence were not welcomed additions in a public venue. The argument was always that boxing was no different, but the economic boost and revenue generated from MMA events would only benefit the economy up and down the state.
“Just thought the sport was just so brutal and so violent and we shouldn’t have had it here,” commented NYS State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto of the Bronx. However after extensively reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of MMA, Benedetto gave his blessings. Economic revenue was definitely a factor as were other issues of safety and awareness of the sport.
Though Benedetto would be the first to admit, he is not a fan of boxing or MMA and has never attended either event. The Assemblyman is an advocate of sports in the community and is the first to release available funding to youth sports leagues in the legislative districts he represents. He eventually hopes to be a fan of MMA now that legislation has been passed.
“I looked at it, “ he said. “We have a lot of other violent sports. See it on TV all the time. It just seemed to be, we were an island out there. We shouldn’t have been an island out there. At least we provided safeguards for safety. We just don’t know how great the economic impact is going to be, but it is all for the better.”
Once the Governor puts his signature in place it will be another 120 days before any MMA event can be booked and secured in the state. First and foremost are the meetings and regulations of the NYS Athletic Commission,the state governing body that regulates boxing and any other type of combat sport.
And similar to Nevada and New Jersey, the NYS commission is very conscious about safety and requires extensive seminars and training for officials, trainers, managers and the promoters. Put that into the equation and perhaps the debut of MMA in New York is slated for sometime in October and November.
But the boxing promoters, some with the opinion that MMA is taking away from their sport are looking in and very carefully. They are aware there are minimal boxing shows in New York, partly due to overhead and costs, and now that MMA will be giving them a run they may be forced to pick up the competition.
There are those in the boxing community, a minority, who welcome the addition of MMA to the state. In the end MMA competition can only benefit the sport of boxing because promoters of pugilism don’t want to lose their territory to the increasing popularity and rising fan base of MMA.
It could mean more boxing shows for New York, though some promoters contacted said it is a matter of doing business elsewhere because the costs and overhead are much more reasonable in other states that have venues available for boxing. But the MMA presence in New York could change that strategy and real soon.
Said Mercedes Vazquez, President of Pretty Girl Productions, “It’s exciting times for New York. Professional combat fighters can now fight at home where their families and family can support. It’s a great boost for the local economy.”
Vazquez, though is in the minority, A successful promoter of boxing events up in Rochester New York and in New York City, she is one of the few who has also promoted MMA events out of the state.
“As a promoter of both sports,” she said, “I see it as a good thing for boxing. I now have the ability of cross marketing the events and reaching a demographic that wouldn’t necessarily be interested in boxing.”
A sampling of fans was overwhelming and they look forward to MMA events finally coming to New York. And at some local boxing gyms there are MMA training sessions available and that is also becoming more popular. Organizers of MMA say that will also be a helpful component to breaking ground in New York State.
“We look forward to hosting our first New York event in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, home to so many epic sporting events throughout the decades,” commented UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta.
He added, “We also look forward to scheduling events in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Brooklyn. We are excited.” Indeed it is a matter of time when the venues will be booked and Vasquez with a good history of promoting boxing up in Rochester could be the first to make history with an MMA event.
Regardless of who gets the first date, and no matter what the opinion is, MMA has arrived in New York State. Now it is in the hands of the boxing community to take notice and a sport that needs a boost can benefit by being a part of the competition.