Friday, June 26, 2015

The 2015 New York MMA Bill - What Went Wrong, What Went Right


It's over. Once again, the bill that would have empowered the New York State Athletic Commission to start sanctioning MMA died in the icy tomb known as the State Assembly. This year was supposed to be different, though. Sheldon Silver got the boot as Speaker, and his replacement - Assemblyman Carl Heastie - was someone who'd supported the sport in the past. Plus, we got a revamped version of the bill that touched on and addressed all concerns.

2015 was supposed to be there year.

So what happened? What went wrong? And, more importantly, what went right? Here's a breakdown:

  • RIGHT - Silver getting arrested on corruption charges and having to step down. There may be some staunch adversaries to MMA (and the UFC) in the Assembly, but he's always been at the top of the heap, pulling the strings and preventing progress. The act of him losing the Speaker position alone brought up the number of bill sponsors and supporters.
  • RIGHT - The UFC's lawsuit against New York over the Constitutionality of the ban. Sure, the case was dismissed this year on issues unrelated to the merits of the suit, but when the State Attorney General's Office was forced to admit back in 2012 that amateur MMA was legal, that led to a boom in events that were completely unregulated by the Athletic Commission. These events became a major talking point in the argument for changing the law, and - perhaps more importantly - they created an entire constituent base that didn't really exist before.
  • RIGHT - The grassroots movement to change the particulars of the original bill. Once it was realized that it would likely kill the amateur MMA scene in New York, that heretofore nonexistent constituent base of fighters, promoters, coaches, gym owners and other interested parties began reaching out to their local legislators and raising hell. As the old saying goes, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
  • RIGHT - Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle retooling the MMA bill to its current form, which addressed the concerns of those who didn't want to see amateur MMA die, as well as the concerns of legislators leery of the health and safety of pro fighters. The new bill had provisions for increased insurance, expanded Athletic Commission oversight, and the framework for a brain injury study. All of these changes to the legislation did the trick in winning over the necessary number of "yes" votes in the Democratic conference.
  • WRONG - It was pretty late in the game for the changes to the bill to have the maximum effect. The conference on April 29 (when the bill was in its old form) resulted in our side shoring up about 70 votes; if the changes had come prior to that, it's probable we would've had more than the required 76, and the bill could've been taken care of before the end-of-the-session crunch.
  • RIGHT - Interest from the Governor to have the bill passed. There was talk that he was going to put it in the Big Ugly, which, in retrospect, certainly would've been the best option. 
  • RIGHT/WRONG - When Silver was Speaker, the MMA bill would've died in the April 29 conference. But Speaker Heastie let the fight continue, and by some accounts, he voiced some encouragement in regards to its passage. However, he also did nothing to let it get to the floor. Speaker Heastie had a lot of different big issues simmering on different burners of the legislative stove, and he let MMA, which was on a backburner, overcook.
  • WRONG - The session going into overtime whittled away at the number of supporters. You can't really fault an aged Assembly member for needing hip replacement surgery, or get mad at someone who had to be excused for family issues, but in the end that overtime killed us.
  • RIGHT - For the first time ever, the UFC apparatus made a concise and well-timed push on social media to get their fans to reach out to a politician and voice their opinion. I don't know if champ Chris Weidman's open letter to the Assembly and subsequent Twitter outreach to celebrities was part of that or something he did on his own, but for the afternoon of Wednesday, June 24, the sizable portion of the MMA world tweeted, emailed and phoned the hell out of Speaker Heastie's office. Though unquantifiable, that does have value, and for their action on the issue, the fans deserve a ton of credit.
It's frustrating to fall short yet again. But though it seems to get said every year (to the point where it's almost become meaningless words), it should be said, for it's never been more true: We were so close this time. Closer than ever before.

Time to catch our breath, take a sip of water, listen to our coach's instructions, and get ready for the next round.

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