Monday, May 20, 2013

The Mystery of New York Amateur MMA

Thanks to a Zuffa lawsuit and a State Attorney General caught in the headlights of progress, 2013 has seen an amateur MMA scene flourish in New York City where very little had grown before. Since February, there have been two Aggressive Combat Championships in the Bronx, and installments of Kings of New York and Victory Combat Sports in Manhattan. But while the ACC events have heavily featured fighters from local gyms (literally, gyms that are just a few minutes away), the Kings of New York and VCS events have seen nearly half of its competitors come from out of state - like way out of state, i.e., South Carolina, Illinois and Canada. Why? Why would amateur events - which traditionally live and die by the number of local fighters on the card selling tickets to their family and friends - have so many slots filled up by those with no local ties? Even more curious is the fact that for the most part, these events have lacked the participation of some of New York's biggest MMA camps, like Tiger Schulmann's, Serra/Longo and Bellmore Kickboxing. Why is that? Why have these established gyms, who've been funneling competitors into New Jersey and Pennsylvania for years, eschewed fighting on these New York City cards?

These are all damn good questions. And I have some theories.

  • The Rules: When an aspiring fighter sets foot in the cage in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there are a uniform set of rules in place, both in terms of what is allowed once the cage door shuts (i.e., no kicks to the head, no ground and pound to the head, etc.) and what is required before and after the fight (bloodwork, cageside physicians, etc.). And thanks to the efforts of the athletic commissions in those states, this has been the case for years. In New York, however, where amateur regulation depends on whichever alphabet organization a promoter subscribes to, rules and standards vary. Greatly. Want to fight in a promotion that most closely follows the amateur rules laid out by New Jersey? Show up at the next ACC event in the gymnasium of St. Raymond's School for Boys. Want to fight in an amateur bout that has pretty much the same rules as a pro bout? KONY and VCS are where it's at. Want an EMT to look you over after your bout? Or do you want a doctor to do it? You can pick and choose in New York, but your mileage may vary.
  • The History of the Promotion: Another theory as to why the more-established MMA gyms have yet to really take part in these new New York promotions is history - namely, none of the newcomers have been around as long as those run by Lou Neglia, Carl Mascarenhas and Frank Perez, and a well-established track record goes a long way toward easing the troubled minds of fighters and coaches alike. Will the newly-minted New York City-based organizations be around in a year? Two years? Sure, probably. But when it comes to putting together full-fledged amateur MMA affairs, they have a lot of catching up to do to come close to the longevity of the Ring of Combats, Asylum Fight Leagues and Dead Serious', and people tend to go with what they know.
  • The New York Stigma: The last theory I have as to why so few major camps have taken part in New York's amateur MMA "gold rush" is that there's some pretty major stigma attached to those who compete in New York - a stigma ascribed to the individual fighters by none other than the athletic commissions in neighboring states. Because of the insanely varying range of sanctioning standards at New York events, and the possibility that someone with a "pre-existing condition" gained from competing in the Empire State can waltz right into other jurisdictions and muck with those jurisdictions' liability, states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio have put some hurdles in place. In New Jersey, someone with amateur fights in New York looking to step into the cage must get the full spectrum of professional MMA meds done - which is costly, and more stringent than what a regular aspiring amateur fighter would need. In Pennsylvania, a fight in New York garners an automatic three-month suspension. Meanwhile, in Ohio, those with fights in New York are banned from competing as an amateur altogether. Yeah, that sucks for Jiu-Jitsu Joe from Long Island, who made his debut in the cage at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown, but it's a fact of life. To compete in New York means your journey automatically gets harder if you want to do the same thing out of state.
These are just theories, of course. But they're theories born from the notion that major New York fight teams are avoiding competing in these New York City shows. After all, this past weekend's VCS event in Hell's Kitchen was all kinds of awesome, but of the 16 fighters on the card, only five were New Yorkers, and none came from any local MMA powerhouses. What's up that? I really don't know.