The Wild Wild West Gets Legalized

Fusion MMA and Kickboxing crew just after a training session in their gym at Port Jefferson Station

By Demi Guo and Lawrence Nzuve

After a 19-year battle, the New York State Assembly passed a bill lifting the ban on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) on March 22. Until then, New York had been the only US state that did not regulate and legalize the sport.

“This is a great victory for the fans of MMA, for the fighters and the State of New York,” Dean Murray of Assembly District 3, said. “The revenue, the millions of dollars in revenue, the jobs that will be created. This is a big day for New York and everyone who is involved with the MMA.”

Legalization opens opportunities for amateur fighters who want to go professional, Long Islander Ricky Edwards, 23, an MMA fighter in Port Jefferson’s Fusion Mixed Martial Arts gym said.

“It was almost like a party in here,” Brian Michelino, manager of the Long Island MMA and Fitness Center, said. “When the news came, I told all the guys here in UFC and they were super excited. It was awesome. Now that it is legal it means great things not only for my gym and other fighters here, but also New York in general.”

Up until now, Edwards and his instructor, Joe Funaro, had to drive to other states like New Jersey to enter professional competitions. “I’ve travelled quite a bit,” he said, adding that he has considered going professional for some time.

“You want to get paid,” Funaro said, explaining that going to professional competitions is a doorway for amateur fighters.

“From the professional side it is a great economic boost,” Assemblyman Murray said. “But on the amateur side, what we finally have is regulations in place to protect the amateur players.”

A study released in 2014 by the University of Toronto shows that the rates of knockouts and technical knockouts in MMA are higher than previously reported rates in other combative and contact sports.

The new law requires the government to promulgate rules and regulations to ensure safety in MMA. Not only would the law ensure that MMA is a safer, regulated sport, Murray said, but it would break down the reasons why New York has regulated the sport to begin with.

The regulations include a more detailed definition of what mixed martial arts is, the adoption of statewide rules, a licensing process for matches and exhibitions, a fee schedule for such licenses, and procedures for the participation, promotion and advancement of such events.

“We will be able to have professional bouts here in New York,” Murray finished. “MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world and we will be able to get an estimate of anywhere from $45 to $67 million from some of the events.”

At Fusion, Funaro and Andre LeRouge, his co-founder, have not started plans to host professional competitions yet.