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New York Assembly approves Mixed Martial Arts

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New York State becomes the last state in the nation to legalize Mixed Martial Arts, following a 113-25 vote in the Assembly Tuesday. The bill was placed on the floor for a vote after a majority of Democrats backed the legislation.

During debate on the Assembly floor, opponents urged the state to continue the ban on mixed martial arts, also known as ultimate fighting. Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe, from the Hudson Valley, says the activity is “sanctioning violence for profit” and has no place in New York .

“Except for those who stand to profit from this barbaric entertainment masquerading as a sport, cage fighting cause great harm,” said Jaffe, who says fighters are “often maimed or sometimes killed."

Opponents argue that there’s growing data on the  potential dangers of concussions in football, and head injuries caused by boxing, and urged their colleagues to wait before approving the sport.

Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, who is openly gay, compared it to pornography.

“You have two nearly naked hot men, rolling around on top of one another, trying to dominate each other,” O’Donnell said. “That’s gay porn with a different ending.”

But backers say the time has come to legalize a sport that’s perfectly OK to practice in every other state.

Bill sponsor and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle says he’s become a supporter, after initially opposing MMA, saying other sports that have been played for decades are also violent, like football, hockey and basketball.

“In fact most competitive spots From pole vaulting to race car driving, carry a degree of risks and danger” said Morelle, who says “it is the responsibly and duty of policymakers to create a frame work where the risks are mitigated."

Morelle , a Rochester Democrat, says the fighting competitions are already happening underground in New York anyway. He says regulating the sport will be much safer for everyone involved. Bill would help provide health insurance for the participants, including neurological tests.

“What we seek to do here is to essentially take the sports out of the shadows,” Morelle said.

Governor Cuomo spoke in favor of mixed martial arts during an event in Niagara Falls. He says he understands some people object to the violence, and he agrees with Morelle that other sports are violent too.

“Boxing is violent, Cuomo said. “Politics can be is violent”.

Legalizing mixed martial arts will also provide money for the state.  Cuomo has already included $1million  in anticipated revenue in his state budget plan from taxes imposed on the fights. The governor calls it an “economic generator," and says it will bring people from other states and Canada to see the fighting contests.

Even with a new law, no mixed martial arts matches can be held in New York legally for at least six more months.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.