UFC vs The Big Apple

December 2, 2013

Uncategorized

By Mac Green – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

New York is known as a sporting state with nine professional teams that compete in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. New York City’s Madison Square Garden also has one of the most celebrated histories of combat sports.MSG hosted eight of Joe Louis’s title defenses (1938-1951) and was the site of “the battle of the century” between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (1971).For these reasons, it is obvious why the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) would want to promote a fight in New York.And yet New York is the only state out of the 48 others that have Athletic Commissions that are still upholding their ban on professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) sporting events.

In 1997, New York passed a law that effectively banned professional combative sports by introducing s.5 in the Regulations of Boxing, Wrestling and Sparring.In the Regulations, combative sport is defined as “any professional match or exhibition other than boxing, sparring, wrestling or martial arts wherein the contestants deliver, or are not forbidden by the applicable rules thereof from delivering kicks, punches or blows of any kind to the body of an opponent or opponents.” However, this legislation also seems to have left the door open for MMA to be legalized in the future by giving the New York Athletic Commission the power to “promulgate regulation which would establish a process to allow for the inclusion or removal of martial arts organizations.

The UFC was founded in 1993 with the goal of identifying the most effective martial art by having experts of unique disciplines compete in a cage fight. Unfortunately, in the beginning it was more of a spectacle than a sport only having three rules initially: no biting, eye gouging or groin strikes.

Although the UFC began in 1993, the modern era of the sport and evolution from spectacle to legitimacy began when the current owners, Zuffa LLC, bought it in 2001. Zuffa bought the UFC for only $2 million because the original owners were on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. Seven year later, the UFC was on the front page of Forbes magazine and the company was valued at nearly $1 billion.  Zuffa has also made huge contributions towards legitimizing the sport by instituting 33 new rules that govern combat within the cage.They have also fostered a worldwide expansion of the sport including a push for the education of the referees, doctors and fans. As a direct result of the sport’s legitimacy, the quality of athletes has also increased drawing in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division I wrestlers, ex-NFL players and Olympians. MMA has been referred to as the fastest growing sport in the world and has risen from obscurity to global powerhouse in just 20 years.

The UFC filed a lawsuit against New York at the end of 2011 because they claimed that the combative sport ban was unconstitutional based on seven different arguments. The UFC named Attorney General Eric Schneider and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as defendants.The state filed a general motion for dismissal in response. 

Just over one month ago, Judge Kimba M. Wood of the Southern Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the UFC’s lawsuit would not be dismissed. Although this is a symbolic victory for the UFC, Wood J only accepted one of the seven arguments submitted. One of the arguments that Wood J dismissed was that the ban of combative sports breached peoples’ 1st Amendment right to “expressive conduct.” However, the UFC may still appeal the dismissal of this argument.

The argument that was upheld by Wood J was that the ban is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. He agreed that the state’s interpretation of the combative sports ban has varied significantly over the years in their comments and briefs, which gives weight to the UFC’s allegations of vagueness.

The COO of the UFC stated that these “inconsistency has cost the UFC considerable time and expense, but more importantly it has deprived MMA’s countless New York fans of the opportunity to have a new law on MMA, one that legalizes the sport and regulates it in a safe way, as all other states have done. New York’s law is outdated, written at a time when MMA was a very different sport.”

In my opinion, because the government has changed their interpretation of what the legislation actually means several times it should be struck down due to vagueness. And New York should finally pass MMA regulations so they can continue to foster their celebrated sports history. 

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