New York finally entered the 21st century and made mixed martial arts a legal sport. Our only question is, what took you so long?
Yes, we know the state legislature had concerns about the level of violence associated with MMA bouts. But in fact, MMA bouts are about as violent as boxing matches, which have been legally sanctioned in New York for more than a century. Yes, MMA competitors can continue to attack once their opponents hit the canvas, but only to gain a submission, which is usually called very quickly. And the methods they use are exactly the same you would see either in a wrestling match or a martial arts bout. Last we knew, those sports were sanctioned in New York, too.
Now that it is legal, New York can reap the same economic benefits from MMA matches as the other 49 states, many of which approved the sport around the turn of the millennium. UFC—the most well known MMA sanctioning body—draws sell-out crowds to large arenas wherever it goes, and its fighters are some of sports’ biggest personalities. Imagine what a nationally televised UFC card from Albany’s Times Union Center or New York City’s Madison Square Garden can do not only for the arenas themselves, but also for the businesses surrounding them. After all, not everyone is going to satisfy themselves with simply eating food from the arena’s concession stands.
Moreover, there is a huge, untapped market for people wanting to learn mixed martial arts, even if the intent is only to get in better shape. Boxing isn’t cutting it because interest in the sport is waning. Going to a single-discipline martial arts school can only hold the interest of a millennial for so long. Being able to have variety in a workout—and, perhaps, fulfill a dream of competing in the same octagon as Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey, among others—will attract more athletes to gyms.
Speaking of Ronda Rousey, MMA also offers women a chance to pursue a professional sports career that boxing has never quite been able to provide. It’s more difficult for women to get a well-paying professional boxing bout than it is for them to get a well-paying MMA bout because fewer women are sticking with “the Sweet Science.” If the burgeoning MMA market for female fighters explodes, the opportunities could be limitless.
Naturally, there will always be a risk of serious injury associated with MMA, but the same can be said of many professional sports. But given how big the sport has become, both in terms of participation and popularity among sports fans, it would have been silly for New York to continue denying MMA the legal designation it deserves.
So, congratulations to the New York state Legislature on joining the rest of the country in allowing sanctioned MMA bouts. It only took you 16 years to become part of the 21st century sports revolution.