Posted at: 08/12/2012 1:05 AM
| Updated at: 08/12/2012 3:28 AM
By: Dan Levy
ALBANY - A Saturday night out in Albany proved that one man's evening of mixed martial arts entertainment is another man's evening of full-contact controversy. Inside the Washington Avenue Armory, there were ten bouts on a mixed martial arts fight card, bouts that have created another fight inside the political arena.
Mixed martial arts is a combination of kickboxing, wrestling, ju-jitsu, and other martial arts forms. It's fast. It's furious. It's hard hitting. And at times it can get bloody.
"Of course there's violence in this," says Shannon Miller, a former professional boxer, who is one of the promoters of Cage Wars 13, which drew about one thousand fans into the armory.
Miller is mindful that plenty of people, including Colonie Assemblyman Bob Reilly, think MMA is barbaric.
"It's peoples' own free choice if they want to go in there and do this," Miller asserts. "Nobody ever forced me in there. Nobody's forcing these guys in there. It's something that they love to do."
Even if they love to do it, they can't do it legally in New York State, at least not professionally. The fighters Saturday night were all amateurs.
"I can't understand how they can say because you're an amateur, they (the state Athletic Commission) don't have any responsibility," said Jack Prenderville of Albany, the former Chairman of the State Athletic Commission under Governor's Carey and (Mario) Cuomo. "(The commission) has a responsibility amateur or pro."
"They ought to be able to ply their trade in the state in which they live and pay taxes," says Tim Nichols, a democrat running for his former boss Bob Reilly's assembly seat.
Nichols thinks legalizing mixed martial arts is a legitimate campaign issue, citing the millions of dollars that could be collected by the state for economic development.
"We have one thousand people here in downtown Albany," Nichols points out. "That's a big economic boost for Albany and Albany County and if we do this all across New York, we're going to see this over and over and over again."
Nichols is the only one of four democratic primary candidates for the 110th assembly seat who supports legalization of professional mixed martial arts in New York, which, along with Connecticut, are the only two states that prohibit professional MMA..
Kevin Frazier, Phil Steck, and Joe Landry are the other democrats who so far oppose its legalization.
Jennifer Whalen, the republican candidate who will face the democratic primary winner, supports the measure.
Bob Reilly, who says he believes the MMA promoters are violating New York State law by staging the event, has endorsed Frazier in the race, disappointed that Nichols, his long time chief of staff, never shared his different point of view about MMA with him.
"Tim is a friend but there's a little tension between us," Reilly said. "He didn't step up on a major issue. He wasn't doing his job."
"If you're thinking about the money alone, that's not enough for me," Prenderville stated. "I think it has to be done with a lot of care, a lot of concern, and a lot of responsibility to put it on correctly, but even then you're not going to protect everybody from getting hurt."
"There's danger in any contact sport," Shannon Miller reiterates. "(Mixed martial arts) is as dangerous as football and boxing. Contrary to the belief that we're all animals, we're fathers, we're sons, we're brothers, we're friends, and we work in the community. We are the state and I think the politicians should understand that."
Miller says prohibiting professional MMA in New York will just force promoters to run off into the other 48 states where it's legal. "It doesn't make New York look like a business friendly state," he says.
But Prenderville says just because MMA is sanctioned in 48 states, that can be misleading.
"You can't tell me in Utah, just because they legalized it, it's doing well," Prenderville added.
"If we legalize the sport, we'll be able to regulate it," Nichols says, "That will make it safer. The state will oversee it so we can hold anybody accountable if they do it wrong."