Mixed martial arts competitions have been illegal in New York State since the 1990s, but now some martial arts event promoters believe they have found a loophole that could deliver a serious blow to the ban. Our Andrew Sorensen went to one of these supposedly legal fights and tells us how the MMA world is trying to fight the law.
ROME, N.Y.-- As fourteen fighters registered for an amateur mixed martial arts bout in Rome Saturday, they were also weighing in on a long contested political issue.
"The biggest goal is to obviously get the word out that MMA needs to be legalized in New York State," Heavy Hands Productions owner Frank Cristiano said.
Cristiano has promoted other martial arts fights, but this is his first amateur MMA event following new speculation on how to skirt the combat sports ban.
The right to have professional MMA events has been a battle since the mid-1990s and it's a fight that's seen multiple rounds.
"There's no reason why we are the last state in the Union that would not allow full competitive mixed martial arts," Cristiano said.
After eight attempts to repeal the ban, some fight promoters believe they have found a loophole. Cristiano is using part of the law that allows for martial arts events sanctioned by regulatory bodies like the United States Muay Thai Association.
"On an amateur level," he clarified. "Professional level, yes, as soon as you start paying people, and as soon as you start having to sign contracts, that's where it gets dicey."
They have also instituted higher safety regulations, like shorter rounds and requiring shin guards. But more than an opportunity to fight, Saturday gave a voice to some of the Mohawk Valley's fighters.
"Every sport's dangerous, you don't see old MMA fighters leaving the cage with terrible brain damage or ruined knees like offensive linemen from the NFL and boxers from previous eras," Amateur MMA fighter Matthew Mahon said.
Mahon bucks the stereotypes and shows the thinking man's side of MMA with his degree in writing and philosophy from Ithaca College.
"If I'm in the middle of a cage and I get incredibly aggressive and I stop thinking, I'll quickly get rolled into a submission and the fight will bend quickly against me," he explained.
Cristiano could face some stiff penalties and action from the state for the fights, but he's not very worried about it.
"It's only a misdemeanor," he joked.
Cristiano acknowledges MMA is a violent sport. He says he has taken as many precautions as possible to keep the event safe and legal. He hopes that if amateur MMA can make a punch, the repeal of the ban could find new life in the next Assembly session.
The Senate's last attempt at a repeal of the ban was left in an Assembly committee at the end of the last session.