Mixed martial arts was quite the controversial sport in the mid-nineties, when John McCain branded it “human cockfighting.” Since then, McCain has gone on to bigger and better things, the sport has reformed itself, and Dana White has amassed a multi-million-dollar fortune as the head of the UFC, cage-fighting’s biggest league. But the sport still can’t get past bans in eight states, including New York, which outlawed it in 1997.
Until now, perhaps. Looking for creative ways to solve budget woes, it’s been reported that Governor Paterson will support legislation to legalize the sport. The UFC has had its eye on New York for quite a while, prompting the New York Times editorial board to call it “blood money” last January.
The Times, like many detractors, is disturbed at the brutality of the sport. But supporters argue that boxing is more dangerous. “It’s pretty hard to sanction boxing and not sanction mixed martial arts,” says Jon Wertheim, a Sports Illustrated senior writer who wrote a book on ultimate fighting last year. “There’s no doubt if they held a card tomorrow at Madison Square Garden it would sell out.”
So will it pass? Ultimate fighting, to non-fans, is hard to watch: It can be bloody, it takes place in a cage, and there are some gruesome injuries. On the other hand, this doesn’t make it all that different from boxing, which is a time-honored tradition at the Garden and across New York. One assemblyman estimates that with the proper taxation, it could bring in $11.5 million per event for the city. “I’m not a mixed-martial-arts fan,” said Upper East Side Democrat Jonathan Bing. “I don’t watch every game, but I like Olympic-caliber athletes and I like the revenue it would generate.”
And in a cash-strapped economy that’s getting beaten to those millions by neighboring states (including New Jersey), isn’t that worth the fight?