Why Mixed Martial Arts is Being Hit Below The Belt in New York State: The Stigma v. The Reality

By: Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, 28th A.D.
June 20, 2011
When you hear the word Jujitsu, what do you think of? I think of the agility, strength, and discipline that must be needed to study this style of martial art which dates back to the Samurai. The same is true of other fighting arts, like Judo, Karate, and Brazilian Jujitsu. To many observers, these are art forms built on honor and mastered with determination. But ironically, when these fighting styles are combined and practiced in the same ring, many people and public servants suddenly have a strong aversion.

This combination of rigorous disciplines is exactly what would be allowed under the proposal to allow mixed martial arts (MMA) in New York State. As someone who appreciates mixed martial arts and recognizes the financial benefits to taxpayers, I find this split reaction frustrating. But I understand why it exists. There is a stigma associated with mixed martial arts; one that I believe is outdated and unfair.

Many people still view MMA as violence for the sake of violence, with brutality as its sole objective; basically like professional wrestling, but real. While there was a time when that was accurate, today the reality could not be more different.

As recently as two decades ago, the sport could be aptly described as a bunch of undisciplined, vicious street fighters battling each other without weight classes, regulation, or regard for the safety of the fighters. But today’s MMA has been changed into one of the most highly regulated sports, with appropriate weight classes and rules, professional referees and medical personnel mandated to protect the fighters. Not only has the fighting changed, but the fighters have changed as well.

As the sport grew from its early days, masters of various martial arts were drawn to compete as the ultimate test of their discipline. Over time, these skilled martial artists replaced the street brawlers of the sports’ early days. Today, when you watch an MMA event, you are watching some of the most highly trained, disciplined, and tactically intelligent fighters in the world. Just to be competitive, these athletes must master multiple disciplines including jujitsu, judo, karate, Brazilian jujitsu, Greco Roman wrestling, Thai-boxing, and boxing.

Yet the stigma persists, in part because opponents of MMA perpetuate the myth. I believe it is time to change our collective perception of mixed martial arts, because the truth is the sport has changed.

But there is another reason for New York to allow mixed martial arts events, as 31 other states already do: the financial benefits. Bringing mixed martial arts events to New York State would create a new, consistent revenue source in the midst of a financial crisis. Period.

After my colleagues and I in state government spent the last six months making tough fiscal decisions that impose significant consequences for New York’s families, it is irrational and illogical for us to dismiss the prospect of allowing a well-regulated, widely accepted industry in New York State as a revenue generator.

A debate on this issue is necessary and should happen immediately. Considering that the State Senate has already passed this legislation, I respectfully call upon the leadership in my house, the Assembly, to bring the bill legalizing MMA in New York to our Majority conference and then to the floor of the Assembly for a vote.

While I recognize that this is a contentious issue, and MMA is not something everyone would choose to watch, I am confident that my colleagues and I, when we debate this issue, can conduct ourselves in the same way mixed martial artists do, with professionalism, conviction, and respect for one another.