Safety concerns prevent pro MMA

The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is growing rapidly in the U.S. Its increasing popularity through promotion companies such as the UFC and Strikeforce has reached fans everywhere. Three states however, including New York, deem professional mixed martial arts illegal.

In 2011, West Virginia became the 45th state to regulate mixed martial arts, leaving Vermont, New York and Connecticut as the three states which find MMA illegal. The other two states, Alaska and Wyoming, do not have athletic commissions. With revenues at certain events reaching up to $30 million, states, such as New York, are trying to pass legislation to make professional MMA legal again.

MMA was illegalized in New York in 1997 due to violence and health risks the sport caused. The ban includes live professional bouts, any person from profiting from combative sports activity and the advancement of MMA in New York. Mixed martial arts is also commonly referred to by some as a “no holds barred” fight, meaning that anything goes, leaving many politicians uneasy.

Zuffa, LLC, the promotion company that owns both the UFC and Strikeforce, is fighting to lift this ban. Their argument is that this sport is no more violent than boxing, bull riding, or skiing, which are all regulated by the state. Semi-professional mixed martial artist Dave Pulver thinks that the violence argument is extremely flawed.

“It’s just as dangerous as going to war or being a policeman,” Pulver said in an email. “There are rules and regulations so it’s not like they go in there and straight kill each other.”

Zuffa is also arguing that if the advancement of MMA in New York is also against the law then why are websites and newspapers that promote MMA allowed? Why can bars hold special events for MMA fights, why can MMA fights be purchased on pay-per view in New York, and most surprisingly, why is there a huge UFC billboard in Times Square? Zuffa is citing this ambiguity in the law as to why the law should not exist in the first place.

New tests are recently being discovered that will help prevent further concussion problems in the sport. The King-Devick (K-D) test, published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, can identify whether or not the fighter has a concussion.

The K–D test is based on the detection of impaired eye movements and saccades, a finding that indicates suboptimal brain function. If a fighter has a much worse K-D score after a round of fighting, then it is a strong indicator that the fighter has a concussion and that (s)he should not continue in the fight. Through tests like these, the sport is becoming safer and it is easier than ever to prevent injuries.

In 2011, New York State Senator Joseph Griffo of the 47th Senate District sponsored Bill S1707A. The bill’s purpose is to ensure the regulation of martial arts matches or exhibitions and their persistence in the New York. The bill includes amendments that would allow for the taxation of the sport.

“Section four of the bill amends Section 451 of the tax law to allow professional combative sports to be taxed on the gross receipts from ticket sales…Section five of the bill amends Section 452 of the tax law to impose a[n] 8.5 percent tax on receipts on ticket sales as well as 3 percent of gross receipts from broadcasting rights.”

UFC 143 in Las Vegas generated $2.4 million in ticket sales, which would hypothetically equal $204,000 worth of tax money for New York state, not to mention what would be earned from other sources of revenue from major UFC fights and total revenues from the 40 to 50 lesser fights that would likely appear in New York.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright is the sponsor of Bill A4146A, the New York Assembly’s equivalent to the previously mentioned Senate bill. Devin Lander, Assemblyman Englebright’s legislative and policy director, spoke about the bill on the Assemblyman’s behalf.

“When the bill was brought to [Englebright], he looked at the popularity of the sport, how it is commonly watched on television and how people in New York should be able to benefit from the sport,” Lander said. “He wants to regulate it positively.” He also said that while mixed martial arts can be dangerous, it is no more dangerous than boxing or football. “If we can regulate [mixed martial arts], we can make it as safe as possible,” Lander said.

This bill passed the Senate, however, it died in the Assembly, so New York is back where it started in terms of MMA legality. This does not sit well with MMA trainer Stephen Koepfer, organizer of the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York. He has organized a rally for the second straight year to show New York’s support of legalizing MMA within the state, saying that they needed a grassroots movement here in New York.

“Last year was a success, in terms of numbers we only had about 50 people,” Koepfer said. “However, in terms of media attention we had a lot of success, not just for the rally, but for the coalition itself.” Koepfer added that they “were out there as a counterbalance to the negative stories” and wants to “target the non-fans, because MMA fans are already supporting this issue.”

Last year’s rally included appearances by MMA champion Frank Shamrock and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem.

“We just need to get this thing legal,” Overeem said at the rally. This year’s rally will feature former New York state Assemblyman Michael Benjamin and Cage Fury Fighting Championships President Rob Haydak, as well as an MMA documentary film festival that evening in conjunction with Madison Square Garden which will be free to attend. The information on this year’s rally:

The rally will be held on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City Office at 633 Third Avenue, NY, NY, 10017. Between 40th – 41st Streets.

With 300 gyms training MMA in New York, the sport is growing fast. Politicians and advocates such as Koepfer are keeping this fight alive in New York, proving that the 1997 legislature is flawed. It’s when these fights go underground, because it is illegal, that people get hurt due to the lack of regulation. Doctors, in regulation, are required to be in attendance. “Mixed martial arts are just as dangerous as any other combat sport, but it isn’t overly dangerous,” Koepfer said. He agreed with Lander in saying that it’s no more dangerous than boxing or football and even adds college cheerleading to the list.

“The law doesn’t even address the sport today, it was a different sport back in 1997,” Koepfer added. “Now there’s a presence on the web, in the media and on the television. There’s no doubt in my mind that as long as this bill is brought to the floor, it will get enough votes to pass and [Governor] Cuomo will sign off on it.” If all goes as planned and all of their confidence isn’t for naught, New York could see professional MMA legalized by the end of 2012.