Time to KO the NY MMA debate

The concern trolls in the New York State Legislature who continue to block the regulation of mixed m
New York is the only state that doesn't allow professional mixed martial arts competition. An amateur card will be held at the Schenectady Armory Saturday night.
New York is the only state that doesn't allow professional mixed martial arts competition. An amateur card will be held at the Schenectady Armory Saturday night.

Let’s get to the point faster than a Ronda Rousey knockout:

The concern trolls in the New York State Legislature who continue to block the regulation of mixed martial arts and legalization of its professional ranks in the state are putting the health, safety and perhaps even the lives of fighters at risk.

These opponents are the greatest danger posed by the sport. And their fraudulent concern — covering up the apparent true motives for their opposition — can no longer be tolerated.

New York remains the only state to ban professional mixed martial arts, and as a result does not regulate the amateur ranks. That means no mandated blood work, no health suspensions, no doctor checks. That has to end this upcoming legislative session.

Forget the economic arguments and the tens of millions of dollars lost annually for a moment: Every opposing lawmaker needs to answer why they are putting the lives of competitors at risk.

The answer for some, although not the one they’ll give to you, is dollars.

MMA is coming to Schenectady for the first time Saturday night at the Schenectady Armory, in an event promoted by Cage Wars. They are a legit outfit, with doctors on hand, veteran referees and mandated blood testing of athletes for the “Combative Trio” of HIV Abs, Hep C Abs and Hep B Surface Antigen.

“You need updated blood work and the paperwork,” said Guy Hammond, a Schalmont graduate and amateur heavyweight champion out of Niskayuna who will fight Saturday. “A doctor checks you out.”

That said, he and others know of other fly-by-night amateur MMA operations that pop up in New York that do none of those things. Combatants may have no idea who they are getting in the octagon with, or what health risk they pose.

“You can have [an incompetent] group of people buy a cage. We don’t show up for those events,” said Hammond, who hopes to turn pro next year. “You need to have regulation.”

The whole “mixed martial arts is human cockfighting” argument is as ’90s as VHS tapes and dial-up Internet. The original argument dates back to the days before the rules of the sport were codified. (The late Jeff Blatnick of Niskayuna played a role in laying down the rules.) It would be fun to mock the hand-wringing — if that stated mindset wasn’t putting athletes in the sport at risk in New York State.

“It is extremely unsafe. It is [human] cockfighting,” Cage Wars co-owner Tim Rankins said of some of the less savory unregulated fights. Politicians fighting legalization “are helping facilitate that.”

Of course, the human cockfighting argument in not only dated, but a ruse. This is really a proxy war for — what else when we are talking Albany? — strong-arm politics.

Two of the owners of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the dominant MMA pro outfit, also own the non-union Station Casinos in Las Vegas. The union Unite Here wants to organize there. Where is it easier to apply the pressure? Back east, on union-backed pols in New York, which is why MMA bills keep getting hung up in the Democratic controlled Assembly.

So when you hear some politician talking about safety, just laugh in their face. There’s a good chance the only thing they truly care about keeping safe are their re-election chances.

There is a strong argument to be made that boxing is more dangerous than MMA, in which bouts tend to be stopped quicker when a fighter gains an advantage. Certainly there are less catastrophic injuries than in football. And let’s not even get started on one of the most dangerous of athletic pursuits — bicycle riding. Where are the prohibitionists there?

Or is this really about something else?

Of course it is about something else, but the politicians can’t say that publicly, can they?

Meanwhile, fighters are at risk.

Fighters such as Hammond, who used boxing and later MMA to shed 150 pounds in several years, and hopes to leave his part-time security and carpentry jobs behind for good and turn pro in 2016.

Of course, if things don’t change, he won’t be able to fight in his hometown of Schenectady again.

Fighters are at risk. Fighters such as Malinda Diffee of Granville, a 5-foot-1, 105-pound 40-year-old mom who got into kickboxing and then MMA five years ago as therapy as she extracted herself from a long-term abusive relationship. Now she will fight for an amateur title Saturday, and is encouraging other women to take up the sport.

“I remember watching MMA 10 years ago, and I was kind of against it. I thought it was just people fighting,” she said the other day. “But when you get into the cage, you are testing yourself.”

The bouts in Schenectady Saturday night are legit because the promoters are playing by the rules — even if the rules don’t exist in New York. But that doesn’t mean everyone does.

That’s why the arguments against legalizing the sport need to be knocked out once and for all, before someone really gets hurt.

Categories: News, Sports

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