MMA legalized in New York, MSG to host first event in state

Before Gov. Cuomo put pen to paper to legalize mixed martial arts in New York Thursday morning, officials announced the first event will be held at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12.

And Cuomo, saying he’s not a promoter, asked that breakout star Ronda Rousey headline the maiden New York event.

“If Ronda Rousey fought here in November, that would be a hell of an event,” said Cuomo, adding he’d attend the fight.

Rousey, who was there to watch the bill signing, called the moment “a dream come true.”

She said she and other fighters have wanted the opportunity to fight at what she called the “pinnacle of professional sports” — the Garden.

Just before signing the bill making New York the last state to legalize professional MMA, Cuomo acknowledged New York is late to the game, but expects to quickly catch up.

“MMA has really captured the imagination as a sport. … We’re excited that growth is going to come to New York,” he said. “The economics of the sport are undeniable.”

Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, has previously vowed the UFC starting next year will hold at least four events a year in New York, spread between upstate and downstate.

On Thursday, just before Cuomo signed the bill making New York the last state to legalize MMA, Fertitta said “we’re definitely going to be here.”

“We’re going to be here to stay,” he said. “We’re going to remain committed.”

In addition to the MSG pay-per-view event planned for Nov. 12, Fertitta said another event will be held upstate before the end of the year.

New York first banned the no-holds barred cage-fighting sport in 1997, with critics calling it barbaric.

But since then, the sport has re-tooled itself by adding in weight classes and rules to protect combatants.

The New York State Senate passed legislation seven times in the past six years.

But the measures died in the Assembly each time — until last month when bill sponsor Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) finally corralled enough Democratic votes to ensure its passage.

Morelle said the bill that ultimately passed is a better one because it now includes more safety protocols and insurance for fighters, including $1 million for life-threatening brain injuries.

UFC fighter Rafael Dos Anjos (l.) battles UFC fighter Rob Emerson during their lightweight bout in Dallas in 2009. New York is the last state to legalize mixed martial arts.Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

UFC fighter Rafael Dos Anjos (l.) battles UFC fighter Rob Emerson during their lightweight bout in Dallas in 2009. New York is the last state to legalize mixed martial arts.

Added Senate bill sponsor Joseph Griffo (R-Utica): “Today is a long time in coming, but good things take time.”

Opponents have argued the sport is dangerous, misogynistic, and homophobic — criticisms supporters vehemently deny.

Supporters argue it’s no more dangerous than sports like boxing that are already state sanctioned.

Rousey, who had traveled to Albany several times to press the bill, had argued the sad irony that she was able to host “Saturday Night Live” in New York City because of the fame she achieved from a sport that was banned in the state.

“This is an exciting and historic day for our great sport,” said World Series of Fighting CEO Carlos Silva. “Those who have been lobbying for the legalization of MMA in NY State, beginning with the UFC as well as World Series of Fighting’s new COO Michael Mersch, should be commended for their persistence and commitment to seeing through the passage of legislation that will finally allow fans to watch live MMA in the Empire State, and fighters to compete there.  We recently opened an office in Manhattan so, along with our television partner, NBC, we are looking forward to bringing our brand of professional MMA to New York very soon.” 

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