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By Zach Arnold | March 22, 2016
American politics swim upstream from popular culture.
For nearly a decade, proponents of Mixed Martial Arts have done everything in their power to get MMA legislation passed. As long as Sheldon Silver existed, it wasn’t going to happen. The beneficiaries of this political roadblock were the New Jersey and Pennsylvania athletic commissions. Over time, those commissions not only embraced MMA but took pride in actually regulating events. I don’t worry about the Nick Lembos of the world in terms of competency.
I worry about the Michigan, Texas, and New York athletic commissions — a lot. Places with big markets, toxic politics, and bureaucrats who half-heartedly care about combat sports other than getting some event tickets for themselves, friends, and the donor class.
For long-time friends and associates who have fought their asses off in New York to get the sport regulated, I salute their heart and determination. Jim Genia is a hero and one of the highest-character people I’ve ever dealt with in combat sports.
We know how the New York playbook likely is going to work. Scott Coker and Bellator will attempt to beat UFC and run the first major MMA event in the state. UFC will come in and run Madison Square Garden once, then run some Fight Nights over the next couple of years before largely abandoning the East Coast for a once-a-year type schedule. All the financial promises of bringing in tens of millions of dollars is just blowing smoke.
I will still appreciate the magnitude of UFC finally running Madison Square Garden and I hope the fans who show up to MSG demonstrate their support as well. It will be hard to have a dead crowd if Jon Jones is headlining the MSG event.
The combat sports regulatory system of dysfunction in New York was out of control. At least there will be a framework moving forward. However, that framework does not guarantee good regulation. New York’s athletic commission is so far behind the learning curve, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will continue to demonstrate a higher level of competence. My lowest expectation of New York is that they can match Texas in competency and that’s just awful.
The politicians were a decade behind the curve in approving MMA legislation. The populace has moved on. UFC fighters are featured on television all the time. Ronda Rousey didn’t need New York to become a household name. New York missed an opportunity to become part of the conversation and to become part of the UFC’s history in regards to their push to become a mainstream sports topic. New York politics never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
There is a great irony, however, in New York passing MMA legislation now during a time when there is so much political & media scrutiny on contact sports like the NFL over the issue of concussions & CTE.
Which reminds me what a great time it is to plug Jim Genia’s book, Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts
Exit question: Now that the Fertittas have accomplished their goal in getting New York MMA legislation passed, does it accelerate or cement their timeline in selling UFC?