State Assembly Clears the Way for New York to Join the MMAdness

Following an extensive, multi-year lobbying effort, as well as numerous court battles, the New York State Assembly voted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, to pass a bill that will make New York State the 50th and final state to legalize professional mixed martial arts (MMA). The bill effectively retools and replaces a prior regulatory scheme in New York, which allowed for professional combative  sports contests to be held in New York that were of one particular discipline, i.e., boxing, wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, karate, or kenpo, but disallowed professional multi-disciplinary combative sports contests, i.e., MMA. The bill will now be sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his anticipated signature. So, what are the key features of the bill legalizing MMA, and what are some other items to consider as attorneys following its passage? A quick look follows.

An Important Expansion of the Term “Combative Sport” Under New York Law

The new bill expressly provides for the authorization of “combative sports,” which now includes “amateur and professional boxing, wrestling, sparring, kick boxing, single discipline martial arts and mixed martial arts[,]” where MMA was previously and conspicuously omitted.

No “Smoking”

While expressly allowing for the promotion and holding of professional MMA contests, the new bill also details the continued ban on “prohibited combative sports,” the unsanctioned, unregulated exhibitions of which are popularly known as “smokers.” Prohibited combat sports, even if now otherwise legal, are those that are conducted in New York State “outside the supervision of the [New York State Athletic Commission] or an authorized sanctioning entity[.]” The new bill outlines how an individual can be regarded as advancing or profiting from a prohibited combative sport, including when one’s conduct which “material aids” a prohibited combat sporting contest, such as “conduct directed toward the creation, establishment or performance of a prohibited combative sport,” conduct “toward the solicitation or inducement of persons to attend or participate therein,” participation in “the arrangement of any of its financial or promotional phases,” and the acceptance or receipt of “money or other property with intent to participate in the proceeds of a prohibited combative sport, or pursuant to any agreement or understanding with any person whereby he or she participates or is to participate in the proceeds of a prohibited combative sport.”

Expansion of the New York State Athletic Commission’s Jurisdiction

The New York State Athletic Commission, which has historically been vested with the sole direction, management, control, and jurisdiction over professional boxing, professional wrestling, and other combative sports, is now expressly in the business of regulating professional MMA in New York as well. Indeed, the bill passed by the New York State Assembly creates, or otherwise reiterates, a licensing scheme for all participants in combative sports including the cost of licensure for promoters, managers, trainers, and combatants, as well as potential grounds for suspension or revocation of one’s license. New York’s existing rules and regulations governing combative sports in New York can be found under Title 25 of the Unconsolidated Laws governing the New York State Athletic Commission, boxing, and wrestling, as well as under Chapter VII of Title 19 NYCRR, parts  205 through 216, which includes the rules and regulations of the New York State Athletic Commission.

Another Item to Consider Following MMA’s Legalization in New York

New York State has been party to a handful of high profile lawsuits involving injuries sustained during the course of professional boxing matches over the past 16 years.  Now pending in New York State Supreme Court is a lawsuit pertaining to the substantial head injuries suffered by previously undefeated heavyweight contender Magomed (Mago) Abdusalamov in an HBO-televised November 2, 2013 10-round decision loss to “Irish” Mike Perez. Abdusalamov’s lawsuit features allegations of negligence and medical malpractice against a range of individuals involved in the contest, including ringside physicians, who it is argued should have seen signs of Abdusalamov’s head trauma earlier in the bout and took steps to stop the contest before its eventual conclusion. Prior to the Abdusalamov lawsuit was the negligence lawsuit filed against the New York State Athletic Commission and others by former super featherweight champion Joey Gamache following his devastating second round knockout loss to the late Arturo (Thunder) Gatti in a February 26, 2000 junior welterweight fight at Madison Square Garden, and the wrongful death lawsuit filed following the passing of light-heavyweight Beethavean (Bee) Scottland after a June 26, 2001 bout against George (Khalid) Jones aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid. While the Abdusalamov case is still pending, the rulings made in the Gamache and Scottland matters will inevitably be employed in any litigation arising from similar injuries sustained by participants in MMA in New York State going forward.

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