Although the politicians fought, many observers figured that sooner or later, there was going to be mixed martial arts, UFC -style, taking place in the state of New York.
But very few people thought it would go through the back door.
It looks as if the UFC, which has been dying to get their shows into Madison Square Garden for years but had been prohibited form doing so, could get such authorization, though it will not be via sanctioning from the New York State Athletic Commission.
The UFC has sued to have the right to put on its events within the Empire State, and they have cited something that they are careful not to call a “loophole” (because loopholes have a tendency to get closed), but instead a very straight interpretation of law in the state, as it addresses something defined as “combative sport.”
They are not necessarily using that as their “way in,” but to demonstrate that the law is unclear enough that flexibility and further contemplation is necessary. There is a vagueness in the law that has led a judge to set aside a motion to dismiss UFC’s (officially Zuffa’s) complaint on the part of the state’s Attorney General.
Here is some of the basis of the UFC’s contention:
When participants engage in delivering “kicks, punches, or blows of any kind to the body of an opponent or opponents,” that is considered to be “combative sport.” But this particular law, which was written in 1997, does indeed carry some exemptions; “carve-outs” if you will, that would actually pave the way for MMA events to take place.
These exempt activities are boxing, sparring, wrestling or martial arts. What kind of martial arts are not defined specifically. And that is exactly what Zuffa is contending; after all, what they are promoting is a martial arts event, and how would they possibly know whether they are breaking the law or not, since the law is so nebulous? And what is to prevent ineffective, even selective, enforcement of such a law if that is the case?
There are indeed certain exempt organizations that would, under this law, be allowed to conduct events that are related to martial arts. These include the World Karate Association (WKA) and Professional Karate Association (PKA), which are associated with kick boxing and the U.S. Judo Association. There have been amateur mixed martial arts promoters who have been allowed to stage events. And there have been bigger attractions as well. There was, for example, a Muay Thai competition that was held at Madison Square Garden back in November, which came in under the exemption since it was sanctioned by the WKA.
It is also important to recognize that since there is no athletic commission oversight for such “exempt” events, the organization under whose auspices the event occurs would be responsible for such regulation; in some cases it is self-regulation.
The UFC would conduct a show using the carve-out granted to one of those organizations if it absolutely had to – indeed, its lead attorney in the case, Barry Friedman, has said as much – but this is a company that has not wanted to depend on anyone else so far and surely wouldn’t want to be at anyone’s mercy, especially since there may indeed be a conflict as to which “regulatory” elements to put in place.
It is their position now, as it has always been, to overturn the statute that is in place and to have their brand of martial arts defined, legalized and regulated by state authorities. What they DO think is that if they are able to put on shows, that would help their lobbying efforts to get the New York legislature to act.
But first things first: a mediation, the purpose of which is to find a settlement on this matter, is scheduled to take place on March 8. That may ultimately provide the basis for the UFC deciding whether to run a “third party” campaign or not.