I was born in Niagara Falls and began my athletic training right here in Western New York. I was a two-time all-state wrestler at Niagara-Wheatfield High School in Sanborn and won the National Junior College 165-pound wrestling title while attending Niagara County Community College.
Now, I'm a mixed martial arts athlete with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and there's nothing more I'd love than to compete in front of my family, friends and fans in my home state.
Unfortunately, my supporters can't watch me compete here because of an outdated ban on the sport. New York is one of only four states that doesn't allow MMA professionals to compete -- a remnant from the days when the sport was unsafe and unregulated.
Today, the sport has changed dramatically, but New York's politicians haven't updated the laws. They should: Our safety standards, drug testing and officiating are some of the most rigorous in professional sports.
Those who once claimed the sport is barbaric are grossly misinformed.
We are genuine world-class athletes who train in the entire martial arts curriculum. Our techniques combine karate, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and kickboxing -- arts that can take decades to master. Fighters must keep their minds focused and attuned to each contest, looking for momentary points of leverage and windows of advantage that disappear in less than a second.
MMA has become a part of mainstream sports. It's the fastest-growing sport in the world, setting records for event gates and concessions.
Millions of fans watch our bouts on Pay Per View, and there is clearly demand for the sport in our area; 55,000 tickets to Ultimate Fighting Championship 129 in Toronto sold out in hours. It is the largest event in the stadium's history with a gate in excess of $10 million.
It's ridiculous that this event will be held over the border in Canada rather than here in Buffalo. My friends and family along with thousands of other fans from our state will be traveling to another country to watch an event that could easily bring an estimated $5 million to our area instead.
New York's ban on mixed martial arts is archaic and unnecessary. Given the safe and regulated nature of the sport, there is no reason it should not be allowed in New York.
Those who claim the sport is brutal simply misunderstand it. We're far from masochists. We're college graduates, role models and Olympic champions with a greater safety record than the NFL and boxing, and, with millions of fans, we're here to stay.
Rashad Evans is the former UFC light heavyweight champion and a native of Niagara Falls.