Legalize It Now! Mma That Is...

Jason SchabingerContributor IMay 26, 2010

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  A general view of the Mandalay Bay Resort with the Statue of Liberty at New York New York Casino in the foreground on March 24, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The crowd roars as Bruce Buffer makes his way into the cage. He announces in a grandiose voice, “Fighting out of the blue corner we have Dan Hardy, and out of the red corner we have the current welterweight champion of the world, George St. Pierre!” Soon, the bell rings as fighters attempt to manipulate their opponents’ joints or knock them unconscious. But this sport has ancient historical and cultural roots, but now it is banned in several states including New York. MMA should be legalized in New York to prevent injuries and fatalities caused by unregulated fighting. In addition, participants in MMA have the potential to earn significant prize money and are protected from injury by stringent self-regulation. MMA has evolved and it is time that New York caught up.

            MMA originates from ancient Greek “pankration”. Pankration literally means “all powers” and was named for its unique unification of many styles of fighting. Pankration had virtually no rules and was one of the most popular Olympic events. This eventually evolved into MMA which unites muay thai, brazilian jiu jitzu, judo, boxing, wrestling, karate, and many other martial arts. In New York City, all of these arts are legal, but the one sport that ties them all together is banned. MMA, a longtime competition, involves fighters representing their country and competing for honor. Because of organizations like the UFC, fighters from the UK, Japan, Ireland, and the United States all compete on a global stage. The UFC is MMA’s largest promoter and sponsor. They hold events that gross billions of dollars each year which benefit the fighters and the promoters. 

            Some people feel MMA sets a bad example for viewers, and these same critics believe that MMA will cause viewers to become restless and hostile towards one another. They have convinced themselves that the only way to prevent viewers from becoming bloodthirsty savages is to ban MMA. One journalist thinks UFC events display terrible gore and violence that only a “cutthroat” crowd would enjoy. Critics of MMA also believe that because of the bad example it sets, the legalization of MMA will increase the number of unregulated fights. This falsehood lacks evidence and only gains support through speculation.

            The legalization of MMA in New York would actually end unregulated fights. According to the Ohio State Athletic Commission’s Associate Director, Bernie Profato, the legalization of MMA diminished the amount of unregulated fights in Ohio to zero. Moreover, critics fail to realize that MMA requires a huge amount of discipline and strategy. Many fighters, such as David Luazo, compare an MMA bout to a game of chess. Luazo states, “It’s a chess match. There’s strategy involved, there’s discipline involved, and there’s a training camp involved”. In addition, many different types of people inhabit the crowd at a UFC event. To say that all MMA fans are “zealous” and “cutthroat” is just a false stereotype. In Japan, one fighter said, “When he [an opponent] took me to the ground, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone was holding their breath, watching our every move from every angle imaginable.” There are people who admire and respect the sport of MMA and those who want to see a guy get knocked around a bit.

            Furthermore, critics of MMA claim it causes more injuries than boxing and that MMA should be banned simply for its lack of safety regulations. These critics believe the legalization of an extreme sport such as MMA would cause even more injuries. Other critics believe MMA is simply “human cockfighting,” and that MMA is a bloody and unnecessary addition to the list of extreme sports. Robert Reilly, a member of the New York State Assembly, stated in an official review of MMA, “The data make[s] clear that legalizing and promoting ultimate fighting in New York State would be injurious to our people and society as a whole.” However, these claims do not show both sides of the story.

            While it may be true that MMA causes more injuries than boxing, the injuries sustained in an MMA bout are less severe. Boxing forces fighters to knock their opponents to the ground until their opponent cannot stand up or recover in ten seconds. The repetitive hitting of the head causes many future illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease as in Muhammad Ali’s case. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, “Over time professional boxers suffer permanent brain damage. The force of a professional boxer’s fist is equivalent to being hit with a 13 pound bowling ball traveling 20 miles per hour.” In MMA, a fighter always has the option to “tap out.” In boxing, there is no such equivalent. Boxing just allows fighters to get hit repeatedly without stoppage. Unlike boxing, MMA is one of the few sports without any fatalities as direct results of fighting.

            MMA is inherently safer than other extreme sports because it focuses on manipulation of joints and ligaments more than it focuses on knocking out an opponent. According to MD Margaret Goodman, in MMA one sees sprains and dislocations, where in other sports you see many more concussions. Goodman also talks about how fighters in states that permit MMA have many medical tests that are required prior to fighting. The tests include numerous scans, general health tests, and blood tests that MMA fighters have to go through before they can fight. In New York, unregulated fights are happening where there is no testing done to the detriment of the fighters. Fights are going to happen either way, but if MMA gains legal status, there will be more stringent safety regulations protecting fighters. MMA is not the gory and ruthless sport it used to be. When the UFC was started, there were only two rules, no groin shots, and no eye gouging. Now, the UFC is under new ownership with a plethora of rules and regulations that, if violated, can get fighters disqualified or banned from the sport entirely. An M.D., MMA expert, and journalist, Matt Pitt, warns fighters about the risk of brain injury, but concludes, “It is true… there is compelling evidence that MMA is safer than boxing.” MMA is also safer than some alternatives in which the young people of New York engage themselves. In many cities in New York, gangs sell and push illegal drugs. MMA can act as an alternative way for these people to express themselves. If MMA remains illegal in New York, people will lose the ability to participate in it, but they can still watch fights on cable, and pay-per-view.

            MMA enjoys several sources of income from professional bouts. The first source of profit is from pay-per-view. Even in New York, where fighting is banned, many people order fights on TV. As described in Las Vegas Sports Magazine, the UFC had 8 million pay-per-view buys in 2009. That is almost 360 million dollars from TV purchasing alone. Many larger events sell out, providing a large boost in the profit for the venue. If ticket sales for an event boom, more people will be buying merchandise for sale at the venue such as food, drink, t-shirts, and other memorabilia. This is a wonderful source of revenue for the stadium and its employees. All fighters receive winnings for the night, too, even if they do not win. Based on the UFC’s 375 million dollar income and their 13 events in 2009, each event averaged 28.8 million dollars. In addition to the revenue flowing into the stadium, the state that hosts the event profits from taxes. According to Sports Illustrated, “A study commissioned by the UFC suggested that a card [event] in Manhattan could generate as much as $11 million in economic activity for the city. As New York’s state budget deficit balloons past $9 billion, legalizing and taxing MMA is low-hanging fruit.” During these tough economic times, New York can use the money generated by MMA more than ever.

            Critics of MMA seem to not see the art in MMA. There is no reason that MMA should be illegal in New York. All the evidence against MMA was just wrong. The opposition to legalizing MMA just do not know what they are talking about. The legalization of professional MMA would bring in revenue, ensure safety, and end unregulated fights. MMA would also provide an outlet of expression in cities that promote drugs and gangs. For all these reasons, MMA should be legalized. Long time MMA announcer, Ariel Helwani, sums it up, “One day I’ll be calling MMA events in that very arena, Madison Square Garden, the Mecca… A big MMA event coming to an arena like Madison Square Garden would only do good things for the state of New York!” There are very few downsides to legalizing professional MMA in New York, but there are many detriments to keeping MMA illegal. Every week that New York does not legalize MMA, they are potentially losing tens of millions of dollars. Luckily for New York, the old proverb, “opportunity only knocks once,” does not apply in this situation. Whenever New York decides to legalize MMA, the fighting world will be waiting.