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New York State legalizes Mixed Martial Arts competitions

Armus Guyton, center, listens to an instructor while fighting an opponent in the cage on April 1 at the Ultimate Athletics gym.
by Sara Kim and Aaron Laramee

After a nearly 20-year ban, the New York State legislature passed a bill March 22 legalizing mixed martial arts competitions in the state.

New York State first imposed the ban in 1997, a time when other states also prohibited and unregulated MMA fighting, according to the Ultimate Fighting Championship website. The UFC and a group of fighters from Mixed Martial Arts filed a lawsuit against New York State officials back in November 2011 to challenge the constitutionality of the ban, according to the UFC website.

“Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the ban infringes upon the rights of the fighters who want to publicly exhibit their skills as professionals and express themselves before a live audience, the rights of fans who would like to experience live professional MMA events, and the rights of those who train, publicize or otherwise advanced MMA in New York,” the UFC website said.

Since the recent overturn on the ban, both professional and amateur fighters will now be able to compete in MMA fights in New York.

Alex Henry, professional MMA fighter, said the legalization of MMA competitions in the state will be advantageous for the fighters for two reasons: people will be able to fight in their hometowns and people will not fight in their opponent’s hometown.

“A lot of the times, you’ll get a split decision that will go in favor of the other guy due to the fact that you’re in their hometown,” he said. “We’ve got a couple guys that take some losses due to the fact that they’re fighting in other people’s backyards.”

Henry said while the legislation will not change the overall atmosphere of the competitions, there are some issues that arise with the approved bill.

He said one problem is travel costs for out-of-state fighters to come into New York to fight others.

“They’re going to have to travel, they’re going to have to take time off of work, and it’s going to be money out of their pocket one way or another just like it was for us going to their hometown,” Henry said.

Zechariah Lange, professional MMA fighter and Muay Thai and wrestling instructor at Ultimate Athletics, said the legislation will create issues focused on money in competitions.

He said money is a distraction from the importance of MMA fighting.

“To some people, it’s money depending on where you’re coming from or whatever perspective you have on it,” Lange said. “But to me, personally, I think money is a bad factor into the equation.”

Henry said taxation is also an issue that people often forget. He said although people are happy with the results of the legislation, the bill mentions little about taxes taken during MMA fights.

“Truth of the matter is, is it costing us more than we are making off of it?” Henry said. “We’ve been so happy about it for so long, but now that it’s here, do we really want it?”

Armus Guyton, amateur MMA fighter, said fighters should be paid a lot for what they put into the sport.

“What I do know for a fact is that this is New York, so everything is taxed like crazy,” Guyton said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to take a lot of the fighters’ money, which I feel like is kind of whack.”

Henry said another issue with the bill is the level of competition presented in the state.

At the amateur level, Henry said, fighters from upstate New York fight others from the area, but at the professional level, fighters ultimately want to compete at different competitions outside their hometowns.

“The problem that I see now is that guys like me personally, we want to fight higher competition that would be, in my opinion, out of state,” he said. “The problem with it being legal in New York State now is we’re going to fight a lot of amateurs that are just going pro.”

Guyton said MMA fighting is not only a sport, but also a lifestyle.

“MMA, to me, is a great sport that allows you to find out who you really are,” Guyton said. “You’re going to learn everything you need to know about yourself in a cage.”

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