News Mixed Martial Arts Bill Passes, Soon Legal in New York State

Michael-TKD-Taekwondo-Flying-Kick.jpg In 1997 Governor George E. Pataki signed a bill into law banning extreme and ultimate fighting in the state of New York. This week the New York State Assembly followed the Senate by voted Bill A02604 into law, effectively allowing for professional mixed martial arts fights to take place in New York State. While only 76 votes were required, the bill passed 113-25. The only step remaining appears to be a mere formality - the signature of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Governor Cuomo seems to be supportive of the bill, reported to have considered revenues generated from mixed martial arts bouts in his proposed New York State budget. At the present time, New York remains the only U.S. state where combative sports such as mixed martial arts are prohibited.

New York State Bans Mixed Martial Arts, Ultimate Fighting

The fact that audiences may relish seeing men bleed, and that some fighters will risk any amount of injury for prize money or glory, does not justify the state's approving these exhibitions of brutality.... Ban This Extreme Barbarism, New York Times (1/17/1997)

In 1997 Governor Pataki passed the New York State Combative Sports law which made it a felony crime to run "Fight Club" type bouts as well as others not sanctioned by a list of recognized organizations. Its primary reasoning for banning these types of fights, which included mixed martial arts (MMA), was that it was excessively violent and poorly regulated. An excerpt from N.Y. Unconsolidated Laws, Section 8905-a reads as follows:

8905-a. Combative sports.
1. A "combative sport" shall mean any professional match or exhibition other than boxing, sparring, wrestling or martial arts wherein the contestants deliver, or are not forbidden by the applicable rules thereof from delivering kicks, punches or blows of any kind to the body of an opponent or opponents. For the purposes of this section, the term "martial arts" shall include any professional match or exhibition sanctioned by any of the following organizations: U.S. Judo Association, U.S. Judo, Inc., U.S. Judo Federation, U.S. Tae Kwon Do Union, North American Sport Karate Association, U.S.A. Karate Foundation, U.S. Karate, Inc., World Karate Association, Professional Karate Association, Karate International, International Kenpo Association, or World Wide Kenpo Association. The commission is authorized to promulgate regulations which would establish a process to allow for the inclusion or removal of martial arts organizations from the above list. Such process shall include but not be limited to consideration of the following factors: (a) is the organization's primary purpose to provide instruction in self defense techniques; (b) does the organization require the use of hand, feet and groin protection during any competition or bout; and (c) does the organization have an established set of rules that require the immediate termination of any competition or bout when any participant has received severe punishment or is in danger of suffering serious physical injury.​
2. No combative sport shall be conducted, held or given within the state of New York, and no licenses may be approved by the commission for such matches or exhibitions.​

Repeated Efforts Fail to Change the Combative Sports Law

Repeated attempts were made to change the Combative Sports Law since 2008 and bills that passed through legislature continuously died in the New York Assembly. In 2010 the New York State Senate passed a bill to legalize and have mixed martial arts regulated by the athletic commission. But it died in the Assembly, as did bills passed in each successive year since.

In 2011, the UFC ("Ultimate Fighting Championship") filed the first of two lawsuits. It claimed that the Combative Sports Law's ban on mixed martial arts violated the First Amendment and that the equal protection and due process clauses were unconstitutionally vague. While the complaint was dismissed in 2015 by Judge Kimba Wood, she did not rule on the claim that the Combative Sports Law was void for vagueness. A second lawsuit was filed by the UFC in 2015 to obtain a preliminary injunction to allow UFC 198 to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The injunction was denied.

Mixed Martial Arts Bill Requires Regulation and Insurance

Bill A02604 passed by the New York State Assembly brings stricter regulation to the sport and requires a significant amount of minimum insurance to deal with the more severe injuries that can arise from combative sports, such as mixed martial arts. Some highlights of the new Combative Sports Law include:
  • The Commission will regulate and have jurisdiction over all combative sports (including over gyms) and publish criteria for third party organizations to obtain approval to sanction professional combative events and sparring. This effectively ends the list of approved organizations in the original Combative Sports Law.
  • The New York Athletic Commission (or an approved third party) must sanction all amateur events - no unsanctioned bouts. The Commission will provide criteria for approval.
  • A minimum of $50,000 accident insurance required of professional combative sports promoters with $1 million of injury insurance against brain injuries and death.
Such accident insurance or financial guarantee shall provide coverage to the licensed professional for: medical, surgical and hospital care, with a minimum limit of fifty thousand dollars for injuries sustained while participating in any program operated under the control of such licensed promoter and for a payment of fifty thousand dollars to the estate of any deceased athlete where such death is occasioned by injuries received in this state during the course of a program in which such licensed professional or professional wrestler participated under the promotion or control of any licensed promoter; and, medical, surgical and hospital care with a minimum limit of one million dollars for the treatment of a life-threatening brain injury sustained in a program operated under the control of such licensed promoter, where an identifiable, causal link exists between the professional licensee's participation in such program and the life-threatening brain injury. Where applicable, professional licensees shall be afforded the option to supplement the premiums for the accident insurance or financial guarantee to increase the coverage beyond the minimum limits required by this subdivision. The commission may from time to time, promulgate regulations to adjust the amount of such minimum limits. The failure to provide such insurance as is required by this subdivision shall be cause for the suspension or the revocation of the license of such defaulting entity.

The End of a Heated Mixed Martial Arts Battle

The fight to legalize mixed martial arts didn't come easy and without strong opposition, pointing at several deaths occurring in the sport since 2007. But Governor Mario Cuomo's signature will put an end to this dispute. He was quoted during a press conference, explaining the reasoning for his support to put an end to the 20 year ban:

"I understand there's divided opinion on mixed martial arts... Some people believe it's violent, and by the way, it's violent. But football is violent, boxing is violent, politics can be violent, so I do support mixed martial arts because it's also an economic generator."​
Legal Practice
Sports Law
  1. New York
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


New York was the only state where MMA competitions were illegal. But, finally MMA wins long fight to be legal. Now, we have to watch how much time will taken by state's sanctioning body to draft its guidelines and regulations.
New York was the only state where MMA competitions were illegal. But, finally MMA wins long fight to be legal. Now, we have to watch how much time will taken by state's sanctioning body to draft its guidelines and regulations.
The New York Athletic Commission is supposed to have 120 days to formulate the rules. We'll see if that happens. Regardless, it seems my days of competition in the ring have long transitioned to the courtroom!

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Michael Wechsler
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