Cuomo: Legalize professional MMA bouts

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Jon Jones kicks Daniel Cormier during the light-heavyweight championship fight on Jan. 3, 2015. (Photo: Associated Press)

Jon Jones kicks Daniel Cormier during the light-heavyweight championship fight on Jan. 3, 2015. (Photo: Associated Press)

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants the state to lift its 19-year-old ban on professional mixed-martial arts bouts.

Cuomo came out Wednesday in favor of legalizing the type of professional fights staged by the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other mixed-martial arts promoters. It marked the first time the Democrat has formally pledged his support for ending the state’s 1997 ban on professional bouts.

The governor tucked a measure in his $145 billion budget proposal that would require the state Athletic Commission to regulate both amateur and professional MMA.

If approved by lawmakers, it would make New York the last state in the nation to allow the UFC and other promoters to stage fight events within its borders. The new law would take effect four months after it’s signed.

“The governor seeks to authorize both amateur and professional MMA and will ensure that contests happen under either the supervision of the New York State Athletic Commission or an alternative authorized sanctioning entity,” according to a briefing book prepared by Cuomo’s office. “It will place firm controls on MMA, its participants and promoters that ensure the protection of fighters and fans.”

Some of the UFC’s top fighters and officials — including Ronda Rousey and Jon “Bones” Jones, who was born in Rochester and grew up in Endicott — have made numerous trips to the state Capitol over the past several years, urging state lawmakers to overturn the ban.

But while the state Senate has passed measures lifting the ban several time, the state Assembly has not, with some senior members of the chamber’s Democratic majority voicing concerns about the brutal violence in the sport, particularly at a time when complications from head trauma are receiving increased scrutiny.

Cuomo had previously said he would be interested in legalizing professional bouts if there was an economic benefit to the state. The UFC has long wanted to host fight cards in Madison Square Garden in New York City, and has promised to bring events to upstate arenas, as well.

In a statement, UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta thanked Cuomo for his support.

“We will be working with the governor and both houses of the Legislature to make 2016 the year that UFC and other MMA promoters have the opportunity to bring the fastest growing sport in the world to arenas from one end of the state to the other,” Fertitta said.

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