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Despite heavy sponsorship, MMA bill dies in committee

New York is the only state in the U.S. without legal sanctioning for MMA, after Connecticut legalized it this month. The sport is practiced at an amateur level, but professional fights, cannot receive permits or be officially sanctioned.
June 24, 2013
Even with a multitude of sponsors this session and a signal from the Assembly speaker that it is "inevitable," the bill (A.6506/S.2755) to sanction mixed martial arts in New York died in committee without a vote on the floor in the Assembly.

The bill passed in the Senate in March and has sat in the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development since it was referred there in the beginning of May. The chair of the committee is Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Maspeth, an opponent of the bill. Markey's spokesman Mike Armstrong said the bill was never picked up in committee and no one pressed the issue. "There were more than 100 bills referred to the standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development this session; after deliberations, only nine were ultimately referred to the Assembly for consideration," Armstrong said.

Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, is also a member of the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. Gabryszak — who once opposed legalizing MMA fighting in New York but changed his mind this year after considering the potential economic benefits for the state — said the issue never came up in committee. He blamed its standstill on the division among the Democrats on the committee and that they just did not have enough people on board.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, opposes the bill and chairs the committee in which it died.
"[Mixed martial arts] is done at an amateur level all across New York, I don't understand why it can't be done at the professional level," Gabryszak said.

In New York, the last remaining state in the nation to not sanction the sport, an organization like the Ultimate Fighting Championship cannot receive permits to hold large events at venues such as Madison Square Garden, so while fighters in New York participate at an amateur level, professional events that people would pay to go see are not legal.

Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer and MMA enthusiast who has spoken on the issue at rallies in Albany several times, said the death of the bill in this session is "terrible for New Yorkers."

Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer and MMA enthusiast, believes the killing of the bill in committee is a sign of state political corruption.
"This was a no-brainer," Bonjean said, "[The Assembly members] didn't even take the time to educate themselves about the sport."

She said the bill's failure attests to the larger issue of corruption in state politics. "To use women and women groups as a means to squash this bill is the greatest insult. I'm insulted as a feminist, a lawyer, and as a mother," she said.

Bonjean said it is hypocritical that sexual harassment against women in the Assembly is covered up, but the justification to stop the MMA bill is the welfare of women. "It was never an honest debate. There are fascist pigs everywhere and the General Assembly is no exception."

Gabryszak said there is no hope for the bill passing this year, but that he is still committed to getting it passed in the future. "I believe if it got to the floor, it would pass there," he said. "I know [MMA] is not for everyone, but you don't have to watch it or buy tickets for it."

"While our disappointment cannot be overstated, our commitment to see New York legalize the fastest growing sport in the nation and the world is intact and undeterred," said Lorenzo Fertitta, the chairman and CEO of the UFC.

"Continuing the ban on MMA does not hurt the UFC. It only highlights the absurdity of the dishonest debate being waged by a small number of people in New York. And New Yorkers pay the price," Fertitta said.

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