New York mixed martial arts backers throw a final punch
Patricia Fahy of Albany among Assembly targets of advocates pressing for a vote
by Chris Bragg
Needing a handful of votes in the state Assembly, proponents of a bill that would legalize professional mixed martial arts bouts in New York have launched an end-of-session campaign to sway about a dozen legislators — including Albany Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy.
The campaign, consisting of robocalls hitting the phones of thousands of residents in each district, seeks to change New York’s status as the last state in the nation where pro MMA bouts are illegal.
The Assembly remains the final barrier: Though the bill could easily get the 76 votes needed for passage if allowed to go to the Assembly floor, the majority of the Democratic conference is still not on board. Speaker Carl Heastie personally supports the measure but is said to be unwilling to allow a floor vote without sufficient Democratic support.
The robocalls, funded by the leading MMA promoter Ultimate Fighting Championship, make a pitch for MMA, then allow constituents to connect with the office of their Assembly member. “New York is the only state in the nation where professional MMA is illegal,” the caller states. “Even crazier is the fact that amateur MMA is legal but unregulated, unlicensed and dangerous. In Albany, they’re close to a solution, but we need your voice to be heard.”
Greenberg declined to identify the dozen, but Fahy’s office confirmed she is among them. Still, a Fahy spokesman said she is opposed to the MMA legislation and “continues to have serious reservations about brain injuries and the financial impact (health care costs) that may afflict MMA combatants.”
Neal Kwatra, a strategist for the anti-MMA effort, panned the robocalls as an ineffective ploy that won’t influence anyone.
“After spending millions on propaganda and campaign contributions, without enough support in the Democratic conference, and far below a majority in committee, cage fighting proponents still don’t have the support they need,” Kwatra said. “But we welcome the robocalls, since everyone in politics knows they are the political equivalent of a technical knockout. You only do them when you know you have already lost, but you need to show your client you are still fighting.”
A substantial part of the opposition to legalizing MMA comes from organized labor, which has a longstanding dispute with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta over unrelated casino issues in Las Vegas. A number of female legislators in New York have also come out against the sport because of misogynistic statements or incidents involving MMA athletes.
New York banned MMA in 1997, but the state Senate has consistently voted to legalize the sport, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is open to legalizing it as well.