Getting a bill passed through Albany these days may be tougher than beating Chuck Liddell in a mixed martial arts match — but not if the bill could bring Ultimate Fighting Championship events to Brooklyn!
Bare-knuckled fighting enthusiast Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint) is wrestling with his fellow lawmakers to legalize the sport in New York — and he’s gotten the legislation out of the first chokehold.
The bill advanced out of Lentol’s Codes Committee and passed the state Senate earlier this week. Gov. Paterson has announced his support, giving the bill a fighter’s chance of becoming law if the Assembly would only act on it.
Lentol believes that the league, which generated $86.2 million in non-gaming revenue in 2008, will flush money into a deficit-starved state and bring must-see events to satiate a rapidly growing fan base.
“It is a big business, but the only difference is it is underground [now],” said Lentol. “It is being done, so why not regulate it, prevent people from getting hurt and oversee it to make sure it operates correctly?”
Mixed Martial Arts, also known as freestyle fighting, is a full-contact sport that allows a variety of striking and grappling techniques from wrestling to martial arts to jiu-jitsu. The sport’s premier league, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is legal in 45 states, but not New York, despite being one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
Ultimate Fighting Championship fans throughout Brooklyn are salivating at the prospect of seeing Liddell battle Tito Ortiz at the Barclays Center when it is finished in a few years. The sport has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, as dozens of mixed martial arts training centers have sprouted up from Greenpoint to Mill Basin.
At the Tiger Schulmann Mixed Martial Arts center in Bay Ridge, instructor Nick Pace teaches classes almost every day for 400 students of kids and adults. Pace, who regularly competes professionally in Connecticut and New Jersey, called the legislation “huge” and said that lawmakers would be “stupid not to pass it.”
“If it’s money they want, they’re going to get it,” said Pace. “Anywhere they would do it in New York would be excellent. There are so many people who want to watch me in my own back yard, they don’t want to drive to a fight in Atlantic City or Mohegan Sun.”
Lentol believes the sport will catch on among even casual fans, and has been convincing nervous constituents that mixed martial arts is “not a blood sport,” telling one worried Greenpoint mom that her son’s interest in competing in the sport shouldn’t be discouraged.
“I explained to her that if we don’t allow the bill to pass, we’re allowing an industry to perpetuate it without regulation of any kind,” said Lentol. “She called me a couple of days later and said, ‘I think the bill is a good idea. It’s all over the place. It’s probably better if you regulate it.’ ”
Lentol compared ultimate fighting to lawmaking, calling both “a tough sport” that uses “brawn and finesse in order to accomplish objectives.” He declined to organize a mixed martial arts match against his colleagues in Albany to raise awareness about the sport, but praised State Senator Kevin Parker’s (D–Flatbush) pugnacious martial arts movements, Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s (D–Williamsburg) grappling techniques, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman’s (D-Boerum Hill) striking skills as among the best in the legislature.
State Sen. Dan Squadron’s (D–Brooklyn Heights) wrestling wisdom? Not so much.
“He’s still learning,” said Lentol. “He’ll be OK. You don’t have to be big and muscular. You have to be strong and agile to be an ultimate fighter.”