MMA in New York? Not until assembly speaker Sheldon Silver's gone ...

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Sadly, the bill to legalize mixed martial arts in New York is unlikely to pass in the state assembly this session. 

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Dana White and the UFC have been trying to get an event in New York for several years. (USA Today)

Assembly bill 6506 has 64 sponsors, which represents 42.6 percent of the 150-member chamber. Assuming that the 64 legislators who sponsored it would vote in favor of its passage when, or, perhaps more appropriately, if, it comes to a floor vote, proponents would need only 12 of the remaining 86 legislators to vote aye to ensure passage.

Those are good odds in just about anyone's book. 

But UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, who understands the odds as well as anyone, told Yahoo! Sports he's not optimistic the bill will even come up for a vote before the assembly session ends on June 20.

"There's a chance it passes, but I don't make it the favorite," Fertitta said, a trace of resignation in his voice.

If it does not come up for a vote, it's the work of one very powerful and out-of-control politician, assembly speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan.

He's doing the bidding of Las Vegas Culinary Union local 226, which has a long-time vendetta against UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

The Fertittas own Station Casinos, which is not unionized. The culinary workers have gone to extraordinary lengths to get back at the Fertittas in an attempt to pressure them into allowing its workers to unionize. 

That is a wholly separate issue from MMA in New York. MMA in New York would have a massive economic impact in the state and would clearly benefit New York's many union workers.

It wouldn't just be the Fertitta-led UFC that would promote shows in New York. The multi-million dollar battle to overturn the 1997 state law that banned MMA in New York has almost entirely been funded by the UFC, but legalization in New York would benefit dozens, if not hundreds, of promoters.

It would benefit Bellator – the most well-heeled promoter in the world – as well as a slew of small promoters who would put on shows throughout the state.

Ike Lawrence Epstein, the UFC's chief operating officer, estimates that if Silver would allow a floor vote, it would pass with at least 110 of the 150 votes. 

"I can't say for 100 percent sure, but I think we might have 120 [yes] votes," Epstein said.

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Ronda Rousey has been an advocate to legalize fighting in New York for some time now. (MMAWeekly)

The arguments against the bill are old and hackneyed and demonstrably incorrect. It's been decried as too violent, though UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey noted that no one complained when she was making the exact same submission moves while winning a bronze medal for the U.S. in judo at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"They talk about submissions like they're terrible," Rousey told Newsday. "I mean, I did them in the Olympics. I did chokes and arm-bars in the Olympics, and they applauded me like I was an American hero. Then when I hear people talk about something I devoted my life to, was proud to represent my country doing, as something that's terrible, it's disappointing, a little bit insulting."

The opponents say it could be harmful to children, and they worry about the health and safety of the athletes. There is a long list of evidence to prove those, and many other claims, false. 

Those complaints, though, are little more than a diversionary tactic, designed to prevent New York voters from realizing that their speaker is essentially doing the culinary union's bidding.Despite the likelihood of gaining more than 70 percent of the vote from the people's elected representatives, the bill likely won't come up for a vote. It's tied up in an administrative abyss by Silver, in a political chokehold that, for the fourth consecutive assembly session, will force opponents to tap.

The powerful politician has used a number of stall tactics to keep the bill in caucus and off the floor, where it would pass easily. He's pointed out that women are against the bill, though that's hardly true.

Women have been outspoken about the way Silver has handled sexual assault and sexual harassment claims lodged by women against powerful politicians in New York.

Inez Barron, a state assemblywoman, called for Silver to resign as speaker for what she said was Silver's "egregious behavior" in handling sexual harassment allegations against state assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Silver brushed off the accusations.

In choosing not to resign as speaker, Silver said, "None of them ever voted for me, so it's insignificant. None of them ever supported me. None of them ever wanted me to be speaker, so nothing is new."

It's old-school machine politics at its best, or worst, depending upon your point of view.

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Lorenzo Fertitta, the UFC’s chairman and chief executive officer, is shown at an event. (AP)

Silver, though, is clearly abusing his power in denying a vote on the bill, particularly one with such broad support.

He's a vote-counter, and he deserves to be counting the votes in a recall election if he doesn't permit the bill to get to the floor for a vote.

An economic impact study reported that New York would make at least $23 million annually from legalized MMA. And legalized MMA is much-safer MMA. There has never been a death in a major, sanctioned promotion. 

Though deaths in MMA are vastly more rare than they are in boxing, which is legal in New York, proponents have pointed to the traumatic injuries and deaths which have occurred in the sport as a reason to keep it out of the state.

The problem is, there are unsanctioned fights all over the state which would be made vastly safer almost overnight by the mere presence of athletic commission oversight and regulation.

New Yorkers across the state elected their assemblymen to represent their interests. Instead, they've got Silver playing their representatives like marionettes.

Much of Silver's power comes via the state's many unions, and he's leveraging one of those to support a bill that the public has demanded and wish his colleagues would easily pass.

If it doesn't get to the floor, the next fight in New York needs to be one to recall Sheldon Silver from the state assembly.

 

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