Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mission Accomplished!

I have not written anything on this blog since the beginning of the 2016 legislative calendar, so it is fantastic to have my first post this year be the last post! On March 22nd, 2016, the Assembly voted 113-25 to pass the MMA bill! Now with the Senate and Assembly having both passed the legislation, we await the Governor's signature and we are golden. It has been a long battle, but FINALLY New York has regulated amateur MMA and legal & regulated professional MMA. Check out the long process that brought us here in Jim Genia's comprehensive story for MMA Junkie

When I threw my hat into the fight for regulated #NYMMA in 2010, I had no idea how many great people I would get to meet and work with as we tried to build a unified grassroots front in the battle to legislate the amateur and professional versions of the sport we love. In no particular order, here are people who in ways great and small were the boots on the ground here and fought the good fight; or fought along side us.

Many people will take credit for today's accomplishment, but let's not forget this was a massive team effort. These people deserve your thanks and recognition (I know I will forget people!! I am sorry if I forgot you!)

Jim Genia, Eddie Goldman, Paula Romero, Justin Klein, Steven Katz, Steve Kardian, Assemblyman Dean Murray, Assemblywoman Joyner, Kahleem Poole, Bruce Kivo, Matthew Kaplowitz, Dave MacLean, Rob Hinds, Chris Herzog, Peter Storm, Michael Benjamin, Steve Greenberg, David Weinraub, Frank Shamrock, Tara LaRosa, Alistair Overeem, Councilman Joel Rivera, Mike Hauben, Michael Stets Steczkowski, Julian Earle, Ronald McEvilly, Don Lilly, Matthew Hu, Barry Friedman and his incredible team, Danielle Hobeika, Chris Reitz, Jorge Rivera, Peter Lampasona, Corey Sands, Bradley Desir, Rick Wenner, Anil Melwani, Curt Boshnack, Josh Pawlyk, Fletcher Neal, Phoenix Carnevale, Forrest Hobbick, Kevin MacDonald, Robert Billings, Reggie Hinds, Lyman Good, Mike Rivers, Mike Straka, Josh Barnett, Nestor Marte, Bas Rutten, Rob Terlizzi, Brian McLaughlin, Primo Bellarosa, Stephen Kunen, Paul Paone, everyone who endorsed NYMMANOW, the Bronx Week Film Festival, Columbia University Sports Mamagement Program, Dylan Wanagiel at MSG, NYS Boxing Commissioner John Signorile, Mohegan Commisioner Michael Mazzuli, Nick Lembo of the NJSACB, Anastasios Mylonas, all the folks at MMA4NY, all the promoters across NYS who never gave up, all the legislators who supported us over the years in the Assembly and Senate, anyone who came to our rallies, watched our documentary, read, shared or contributed to my NYMMANOW blog, attended our events and were willing to give us locals a voice and allowed us to speak truth to power. It has been incredible to watch a true grassroots community develop over the past 6 years. So awesome. Let's go celebrate!!

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Markey Gets Cold Feet and Inside MMA Was There to Cover the Story

Opponent to regulated MMA in New York, Assemblywoman Margret Markey - Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development - cancelled her own scheduled December 11th public hearing on combat sports injuries in New York State with only days notice, and no justification given. According to the hearing's original announcement:
The New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) is authorized to regulate professional boxing and wrestling, which includes, but is not limited to, establishing medical and safety rules and regulations. If legalized in New York State, the sport of mixed martial arts would likely be regulated by NYSAC. 
The purpose of this hearing is to ascertain the frequency and severity of injuries suffered by professional boxers, wrestlers, mixed martial arts fighters and other combative sports participants. In addition, this hearing would review current safety and medical protocols in order to determine if there are areas in need of improvement which would benefit and protect the welfare of these professional athletes.
Apparently, Markey had a case of cold feet when it became clear not enough people would testify against regulating MMA in New York.
Despite the Assemblywoman's apparent desire NOT to hear from her constituents on the issue, the UFC spearheaded rally that was to precede the hearing went on full steam ahead, with assistance from our coalition, right in front of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's Manhattan office...and AXS TV's Inside MMA was there to cover the story:

Will 2016 be the year for NY MMA? Time will tell, but there are lots of moving parts in our favor, not the least of which is a newly ratified and comprehensive bill that addresses each and every aspect of the opposition's argument against the sport. The legislation is set to hit the ground running once the legislative calendar opens next year. After a very close battle this year, Assembly supporters of regulated MMA in NY plan to push the issue early in 2016. With the UFC actively planning an event at Madison Square Garden for April, the Federal lawsuit still in play, and an opposition that is losing steam, our ducks are lining up in a nice row for a potentially exciting new year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December 11th NY MMA Rally and public hearing in Manhattan! Please be there!

We have done it before and I am asking you to do it again! On December 11th, the State Assembly is holding a public hearing regarding injuries and combat sports in New York - including Boxing, Kickboxing and MMA. This hearing will be a major factor in our 2016 fight for legal professional MMA in NY! The hearing is PUBLIC and we are planning a rally to gather outside the hearing location at 9:30am (in Manhattan) before the hearing starts at 10:30am.

As close as we came last year, the new and improved bill we have awaiting to hit the ground running next year, and the the fact that the battle is starting this early in the game for 2016 is a great sign for us.

It is IMPORTANT that we make a good showing at this rally! PLEASE take some time to come and show your support for the sport we love. I know it gets frustrating year after year, but change in Albany happens at a snails pace. Let's keep pushing and make 2016 the year. That will start with a strong continued push in 2015!

When: Friday, December 11, 2015 at 9:30am
Where: 250 Broadway, in Manhattan. Right outside of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office.

You can expect all the usual rally activities including signs, chants and speakers. Check out our 2011 and 2012 rally vids. I KNOW WE CAN TOP THIS!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

No MMA in 2015: Heastie Shows His True Colors

Fear not New Yorkers! At the conclusion of the New York legislative calendar, our state now has a Chicken Wing Day, a state amphibian (the wood frog), horse racing is now legal on Palm Sunday, and you can bring your pet dog to your favorite outdoor cafe! But, mixed martial arts still remains unregulated for our amateurs and completely banned for our professionals.

After what may have been the largest rallying of support by the MMA community we have ever seen in NY, newly minted Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie fails to move the the combat sports bill forward for a vote. Once again, the bill that could have brought regulated MMA (and other amateur combat sports like kickboxing) to New York dies without ever being voted upon by our elected representatives. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that A02604 is an extremely progressive bill, which could have had positive trend setting implications for the sport as a whole.

Nevertheless, despite passing in the Senate twice (both the original and amended versions of the legislation), apparent support by Governor Cuomo and a vast majority of support in the Assembly, Heastie demonstrated that he was very willing to sacrifice the health and safety of New York athletes by choosing not to rise above the disingenuous partisan politics enacted by his predecessor. In the end, as a past co-sponsor of the New York MMA bill, Heastie proved himself to be worse than Sheldon Silver. At least with Silver, we knew where we stood. Heastie was a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This May, 2015 letter I received from Heastie's office was more prophetic than it seemed:

Since 2012 at least five amateur combat sports athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated amateur MMA and kickboxing events nationally. Let's not forget about the dozen or so amateur MMA fighters & kickboxers who have been able to fight in New York's unregulated amateur circuit despite having been suspended from competition by other state athletic commissions for HIV, Hepatitis, and other prohibitive medical conditions.

Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports sums it up perfectly:
Thus, it's going to be at least another year until there is a legal MMA card in New York.
There may be several hundred illegal* ones, though, and without adequate regulation and medical care someone could be seriously injured. If that happens – and I pray to God that it doesn't – the person's blood will be on the hands of the governor, the legislators and everyone else who worked to block this bill's passage.
*There will likely not be hundreds of illegal MMA events in NY as amateur events are legal and pro does not exist in NY, except rarely on Native land. There are however, many unregulated by the state athletic commission - fifty four in 2014. Still, Iole's point remains frightening accurate.

For a breakdown of what went right and wrong with this year's round of fighting, check out this piece by Jim Genia.

I leave you with a small fraction from the last week on that modern day ticker tape that is twitter:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It Is Not Over Yet: There Is No Time For Complacency In The Final Hours!

We are literally down to the wire with the new amended MMA bill A02604. To catch you up since my last post regarding the Assembly's new amended bill, on June 14th both the Assembly and Senate have revised their bill with matching amendments. You can read the latest version of the bill here.

Yesterday, the Senate voted on and passed their new amended version of the bill by a 49-13 majority. Officially on the Assembly's calendar, today is their final session day; though they will likely extend their session through the week to tie up all loose ends. We are literally down to the wire with this. Events are seemingly happening by the minute. To keep up to date, minute by minute I highly suggest you follow MMA Journalist, Jim Genia. He is literally on top of each and every bit of news that comes out, as it comes out.

Runor has it that we have the required Democratic Assembly votes to pass A02604 (if you are wondering why I specify "Democratic", read my last blog post). However, this is New York and politics is never cut and dry, and often completely illogical. Yes, we are closer than we have ever been, but that is more reason to continue contacting you Assembly members, the Governor and the Assembly Speaker to request their support of A02604. We are in the home stretch and we can't get complacent!

Here is the info you need to contact everyone:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Bronx Office: 718-654-6539
Albany Office: 518-455-3791

Governor Andrew Cuomo
E-mail the Governor HERE
Albany Office: 1-518-474-8390

Find your local Assembly Member contact information HERE

If we play our cards right, we will be celebrating the arrival of regulated MMA to New York by week's end, but let's keep the ball rolling: It is not over yet!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York MMA: A Fist Full of Holdouts

Not since 2010 when I formed the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York have I felt more optimistic about the prospects for getting MMA properly regulated in New York. In fact, for the first time in five years I believe we can see concrete positive results of all the planning, lobbying, meetings with members of our legislature, interviews, social media campaigns, articles, editorials, rallies, etc. After years of hard work, on behalf of many people across our state, this year we are ridiculously close to getting what we want. The finish line is only a few steps away. We literally have only days left (Wednesday is the end of the legislative calendar) to put the new and vastly improved Assembly bill A02604 to the floor for a vote.

For years those who oppose bringing regulated MMA to New York have expressed concerns about the health and safety of our athletes. When one boils down the battle for MMA in New York and strains out the disingenuous oppositions and unrelated political curds that have plagued this process for years, the most credible, important and relevant concern left in the pot is indeed the health and safety of our New York athletes. There is nothing more important than the safety of our athletes; not the money, not the job growth, not the ticket sales, nothing.

This year it came to light that the initial version of Assembly bill A02604, essentially the same bill that has passed the Senate for the past six years, inadvertently banned the now booming New York amateur MMA scene; a move that would essentially force thousands of fighters back to the illegal world underground fighting. While dissecting the bill, journalist Jim Genia identified language in the bill that, if passed, set the stage for the regulation of professional MMA, but banned amateur MMA simultaneously. This set into motion a movement on behalf of the New York MMA community, the likes of which I have rarely seen. Of course we wanted regulated professional MMA in New York, but we did not want to lose our growing amateur circuit and compromise their health and safety.

Read my April 30th open letter to the Assembly on this topic 

The unregulated "wild west" nature of amateur MMA has long been a concern in New York, but not a focus of past attempts at legislation. None of the bills in years past have addressed the needs of our amateurs; it was always about the professional athletes. This year's bill put amateurs on the chopping block and was enough to generate a call to action that ironically put the pro-MMA and anti-MMA crowds on the same side - fighting for the safety of ALL our New York athletes.

All across New York coaches, regulators, fighters and fans reached out to their legislators. The message was clear: We want MMA in New York, but we want safe regulated MMA for our professionals AND amateurs - amend the bill if you want our support. As an example, here are the Coalition memos we shared at meetings with our Assembly Members:

Similar e-mails, letters, tweets, phone calls and memos went out to Assembly Members across New York from our community. It seemed for once that actual concerns were being discussed, rather than the usual anti-Zuffa union soundbites that we New Yorkers were used to. Still, we are used to feeling neglected in New York politics. After years of disappointment, hope was a feeling we dared not entertain. In all the years of running the New York MMA hamster wheel, we had become accustomed to feeling unable to effectively participate in the process. But, this year was a perfect storm of sorts. The opposition and the supporters of MMA wanted some of the same things: and people listened!

Assembly Majority Leader and primary sponsor of A02604 Joe Morelle announced last week that the bill had been amended. Here is a copy of his Assembly memo outlining the bill's changes from just days ago:

The new version of A02604 is a progressive document that truly addresses the short and long term safety needs of our athletes and effectively raises the bar on how MMA can and should be regulated (the bill can be read in its entirely here). Additionally, you can listen to Jim Genia discussing the new bill and current state of things on MMA Payout. Word on the street is the the Senate will agree to amend their version of the bill and that the Governor is throwing his weight behind this new bill as well.

So we have a revamped bill that sets a new standard with regard to safety measures for our athletes, provides for New York State Athletic Commission oversight of both professional and amateur MMA, and revamps the current outdated combat sports law in numerous important and significant ways. After years of hard work, we have essentially gotten pretty much everything we and the opposition wanted in a new bill. So why are we still pushing for a vote on the bill? This should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, we are still fighting because the Assembly majority is still about 4 votes short of the 76 Democratic votes we need to pass the bill. Convention in the Democrat controlled Assembly is that a bill must be able to pass with only Democrat votes. If that sounds contrary to how our system is supposed to function, that is because it is. The Democrat controlled Assembly does not want to depend on Republican votes to pass a bill; effectively neutering all the pro-MMA constituents in Republican controlled districts. This leaves us with three possible outcomes:

First, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (who was a prior co-sponsor of the bill in years past) could send the bill to the floor for a vote regardless. In this case, the bill will surely pass in a bi-partisan fashion and we will finally have regulated pro AND amateur MMA in New York for the first time since 1997. There are plenty of Republican votes to make up for the few missing Democrat votes.

Second, we can (and most definitely should!) give a last hard push to the hold out Democrats who are still undecided regarding this bill. In my opinion, any member of the opposition who does not stand behind this amended bill is acting out of pure disingenuous self-interest. Here, quoting from Jim Genia's blog, are the Assembly members in question. Contact them and let them know where you stand:

These two guys are VERY close to voting in favor of the MMA bill, so definitely go at them hard: 
-Assemblyman Steve Otis, Westchester -, 914-939-7028 and 518-455-4897 
-Assemblyman James Skoufis, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-469-6929 and 518-455-5441 
Here are the rest of the undecideds: 
-Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Queens -, 718-457-3615 and 518-455-4561 
-Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, Queens -, 718-479-2333 and 518-455-4711 
-Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Buffalo -, 716-885-9630 and 518-455-4886 
-Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Brooklyn -, 718-771-3105 and 518-455-5262 
-Assemblyman Charles Barron, Brooklyn -, 718-257-5824 and 518-455-5912 
-Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-454-1703 and 518-455-5177 
-Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, Albany -, 518-455-4178 
-Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh, Manhattan -, 212-979-9696 and 518-455-5506

The final and unfortunate third possibility is that once again we do not achieve 76 Democratic votes AND Assembly Speaker Heastie does not put the bill to the floor for a bi-partisan vote. In this case, we are left once again waiting to start the fight over in January; albeit with a fantastic new bill from which to begin the fight anew. We have spent years waiting for this moment: A new progressive bill with an MMA supporter in the Speaker's seat. Will that be enough? Or will it be New York Politics as usual?

We will know by Wednesday.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Open Letter to the Assembly Regarding MMA in NY

Dear Assembly Member,

I am writing in regard to the Mixed Martial Arts bill (A02604), which is currently being considered in the Assembly.

I am a the founder of the Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY, which represents fans, students, athletes and coaches of Mixed Martial Arts in New York State. We fully support the regulation of professional and amateur MMA. Since 2009 we have played an active roll in educating the public as well as our legislators regarding the sport of MMA and why it is critical that it be regulated in NYS. We have worked directly with Association of Boxing Commission trainers to educate our state's amateur MMA officials, athletes and coaches. We have even produced an acclaimed documentary called New York MMA, which is now available on Hulu. I believe this short film would be a great introduction for you as to who we are, as well as an educational piece regarding the sport of MMA.

As we are at a critical moment regarding MMA in New York, I wanted to speak to you and stress our belief that A02604 as currently written is inadvertently placing New York's amateur athletes at a higher health and safety risk by forcing them to either turn professional or not compete at all. This will essentially force many (in my estimation most) athletes and promoters back to the underground unregulated fight scene; which we clearly do not support.

As we have seen in Washington this week, poorly regulated fights can have very serious consequences. In fact, Since 2012, five amateur combat sport athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated events nationwide (none in New York). Here is my editorial regarding the desperate need for a higher standard of amateur MMA regulation, not just in NY, but nationwide.

We in New York have a rare opportunity to lead by example - to raise the bar and protect our amateur athletes. To ignore this issue in A02604, as it is currently written, would be negligent.

In 2014 there were a total of 54 amateur MMA events in NYS (functioning under a wide spectrum of third party regulation, or none at all). Each event had approximately 15 bouts, or 30 athletes. That totals approximately 1,620 athletes (not accounting for athletes who fought more than once). This is nearly double the amount of 2013 events. When one does the math we see that this community is very large; as with most sports, much larger than New York's professional MMA community. To not account for the safety of our amateurs, and only focus on the regulation of professional, we are throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Additionally, aside from sacrificing the safety of our amateur athletes by pushing them back to the underground as the current bill would do, we believe NY will be sacrificing significant revenue by not providing for Athletic Commission regulation of amateur MMA in the bill. Consider the possible revenue if these 1,000+ amateurs had to acquire an annual $35 Association of Boxing Commissions license, paid to the NY athletic commission (as they do in NJ, PA, etc). We are looking at very significant numbers and we have not even considered promoters licenses, seconds licenses, venue rentals, medical staff, hotel, food, travel and other aspects which surround the very large NY amateur MMA circuit.

Importantly, amateur MMA will directly benefit local communities. Large professional events like the UFC (who we wholeheartedly want in NY) will take place in large cities and do not provide direct economic impact to smaller NY communities. Amateur MMA events will provide direct economic impact to the local communities that host them.

It is clear that the definition of amateur as laid out in this bill is incongruous with the norm in amateur sports. A02604 defines an amateur MMA event as any event which simply charges admission for spectators. By this standard, no single amateur wrestling, basketball, football or boxing event in NY would be considered amateur. This is an unrealistic definition which holds MMA to a much different standard than all other amateur sports. Under this definition athletes and promoters will be forced to either turn professional, quit or go underground as in the past.

We absolutely want professional MMA in New York and have been fighting for it for quite some time. However, we believe that sacrificing our amateurs to do so is not the correct path. We are strongly urging that portions of this bill be ratified to allow for New York State Athletic Commission (or an approved, qualified proxy) oversight of amateur MMA if it is to move forward. Let's protect our professionals and amateurs equally.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I were to neglect mentioning of our community's concern over the extremely broad language in the bill regarding how "Gyms, Clubs and Training Camps" will be regulated. Not only is the definition of what consists of an "MMA Gym, Club or Training Camp" poorly defined (and determined in large part by the bill's very broad definition of what an amateur MMA event consists of), the level and scope of the regulation to be placed on these gyms is equally vague. We would like to see greater definition with regard to this issue. Here is one editorial on the matter.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York
Producer, New York MMA