That’s how long the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been lobbying for the legalization of mixed martial arts in the state of New York.
Yesterday, the company announced another tour – this one featuring former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawerence Epstein and bill sponsors Senator Joe Griffo and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle to mobilize upstate support in Albany, the state capital.
Rochester and Buffalo will also hold rallies and press conferences later today.
Fans will get a chance to mingle and chat with Weidman and perhaps get an autograph.
New York remains the only state where professional MMA is banned. Wyoming, Vermont and Connecticut were the last remaining states to endorse the sport.
The province of Ontario in Canada legalized the sport in 2011 after years of intense UFC lobbying. At that time, it was thought that New York would be onboard well before the province, but Ontario has hosted four UFC cards in its capital city of Toronto (UFC 129, UFC140, UFC 152, UFC 165) since then.
New York is surrounded. It’s only a matter of time is the conventional thinking. Or is it?
“We have been at this fight for eight years to get New York to recognize and regulate the fastest growing sport in the world and we are confident that 2016 is the year,” Epstein said. “We thank Governor Cuomo for including it in his executive budget this year and, of course, our consistent appreciation of Senator Griffo and Assembly Majority Leader Morelle for their consistent support and efforts. Passing this bill is right for the sport, right for the fans, right for the athletes, right for the arenas, and right for New York.”
You’ll get no argument from Weidman, who hails from Long Island.
“I grew up here,” Weidman said. “I went to school and was an all-state wrestler. I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hofstra University, where I was an All-American wrestler. I train for my job here and own a business here. However, I can’t practice my profession in my home state. It’s time that New York joins every other state to legalize and regulate the sport that I and so many other New Yorkers love. I want my family and friends to be able to see me regain my middleweight championship here in New York at Madison Square Garden, where so many historic fights have taken place, or any of the other great New York arenas. Please, New York State Assembly, make this year the year that it happens!”
The UFC seems to have the support of senators, gyms, fighters, politicians, and business associations. The problem is each MMA legalization bill that gets introduced (there has been seven) dies in the state assembly.
The main problem continues to be the Culinary Workers Union. A 2011 Newsweek article reported they do not take kindly to companies that use non-union labour in other states and have exerted their political influence to keep the UFC from operating in the Empire State.
Meanwhile, UFC on FOX 18 takes place Saturday, across the waters at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Anthony Johnson takes on Ryan Bader in the light-heavyweight contender main event.
Unsurprisingly, amateur MMA has a solid foothold in the city. Long Island’s MMA Platinum Gloves and New York City’s Extreme Cagefighting NYC (ECF) are supported. The Crossfire’s photography columnist Joe Lobianco works many of their events.
For a city that never sleeps, everyone seems to be wondering when New York will wake up and smell the MMA coffee.
As Dana White likes to say: Let’s see what happens.