Earlier this month, two phenomenal mixed martial arts athletes from Western New York Rashad Evans of Niagara Falls and Jon Jones, a native of Rochester who lives in Ithaca -- fought for the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight world championship. Jones retained his title in an extremely exciting matchup. But unless New Yorkers flew to Atlanta they could not see this event -- or any professional MMA fight -- in person because New York is the only state in the nation that bans it.
MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world. Last year, the UFC held fights at Toronto's Rogers Centre, drawing 50,000 fans and producing $40 million in economic activity. Imagine the impact of UFC and other MMA events at First Niagara Arena and venues across the state: new revenues for the state and for local governments; increased activity at hotels and restaurants, and jobs for New Yorkers.
We can't bury our heads in the sand. New Yorkers are MMA fans. They watch it regularly on television -- cable, pay-per-view and Fox, the broadcast network that brings us NFL football and the World Series. They read about it, follow it through social media and even travel out of state to attend events. The only thing New Yorkers can't do is attend fights in their own community.
The UFC holds events in dozens of states and nearly a dozen countries. It is eager to hold events in New York -- including Buffalo and Rochester -- and we are eager for the jobs and revenue, not to mention the excitement these events will bring to New York.
MMA was banned in New York -- appropriately -- in 1997. The sport had no rules and no regulators. Today 45 state athletic commissions have adopted the unified rules of mixed martial arts, and only New York has kept its ban in place.
Opponents say it is too forceful. Yes, MMA is an extremely physical and sometimes fierce sport. But so too are football and hockey -- and Bills and Sabres fans like it that way. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University finds MMA to be as safe, if not safer, than other contact sports such as football, hockey and boxing.
There are MMA gyms and schools throughout the state. They provide young people with physical skills, mental skills and discipline and they teach the positive values that have been associated with martial arts for centuries.
The bill we sponsor to legalize MMA in New York gives the State Athletic Commission the authorization to regulate MMA in a safe and secure manner, and requires the commission to review the sport annually, ensuring the safety of the participants.
For the jobs, the revenues, the excitement and for the millions of MMA fans in New York, 2012 is the time to legalize and regulate MMA in New York.
Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Dennis Gabryszak are members of the New York State Assembly from Erie County. They are co-sponsors of legislation to legalize and regulate MMA in New York.