Over the past several years, one of the biggest fights in the mixed martial arts universe has been waged outside of the cage: the effort to finally get the sport legalized in the state of New York.
Despite already passing the New York Senate with wide spread popular support, in May of this year, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced that the bill would once again be prevented from reaching the Assembly floor for vote. For the second straight year, the bill to legalize mixed martial arts in New York was killed in committee.
The ongoing ban in New York has prevented thousands of fans in the state from having the opportunity to watch their favorite sport live. It has robbed venues from Madison Square Garden to countless smaller arenas from the revenue-generating bonanza that would come from hosting a professional MMA card.
But without a doubt, the biggest burden has been felt by New York state fighters and trainers. For professional fighters trying to establish a career while living in New York has meant long overnight drives, hostile crowds and records marred by judges' decisions that smell suspiciously like "home cooking."
But later this month, an exciting new venue will open up for fighters in upstate New York, as the Gladius Fights Promotion hosts its inaugural card at the Cattaragus Sports Arena in Irving, NY, sanctioned by the Seneca Nation's Athletic Commission.
Gladius Fights was started by long time MMA trainer and owner of Bombsquad Management, Ryan Ciotoli. Ciotoli once estimated to me that he travels 30-35 weekends a year with his fighters, getting them the fights they need to stay active and build their up their resumes.
By donning a promoter's hat, the former Ithaca College All-American wrestler will get the chance to bring the sport he has been involved in for more than a decade closer to home.
For the Seneca tribe, sanctioning and promoting mixed martial arts is not a new venture. The tribe previously worked with the Raging Wolf Promotion, hosting the cards at their Seneca Niagara Casino, in Niagara Falls, NY.
The experience makes them an ideal partner for Ciotoli, regardless of the ban that prevents him from promoting cards anywhere else in the state. "The Seneca Commission is very easy to deal with," he told me. "Very structured and organized. They bring in good refs and judges and a good doctor."
The Seneca Nation's new Cattaragus Arena provides a state-of-the-art venue for the show. "The locker room area is great," Ciotoli said, noting that in his road warrior travels shepherding his team around the Northeast, accommodations for fighters are not always ideal.
"It's great to have a place for each team to relax and get ready. And having a place to shower, that's nice."
As would be expected, the card is loaded with New York state fighters, including main event combatants, lightweights Don Carlo-Clauss, 9-7, of Rochester and Eddie Fyvie, 9-5, of Schenectady.
A Bellator and Strike Force veteran, Carlo-Clauss could be the poster boy for fighters getting a raw deal on the road. Last December he dropped a split decision in New Jersey to hometown fighter Chris Liguori. NortheastMMA.net correspondent Old School reported he had been sitting next to Liguori's own family, who all thought their boy had lost the fight.
Although Carlo-Clauss fought on a Raging Wolf cards in 2009 and 2010, like most New York state fighters, his career has mainly been played out away from home. In a press release on the Gladius Fight's Facebook page, he stated:
"I’ve had 16 fights and some of my closest friends and family have never seen me fight before. I want this fight to start a new chapter in my career, and I want to keep looking ahead."
The card will be streamed live by Go Fights Live. Comcast Regional Sports network will broadcast a highlight version of the card within two-three weeks of the show date.