Get to work UG!!!!!
March 10, 2008
The Empire Zone
Ultimate Fighting, Toned Down, Seeks Legalization
By DANNY HAKIM
ALBANY -- The Ultimate Fighting Championship is ready for a rematch with New York State.
On Monday, the company that owns the championship will begin its public campaign to legalize so-called mixed martial arts fighting in the state, 11 years after it was banned by Gov. George E. Pataki, who said at the time that "to have someone who wins by using choke holds and kicking people while they are down is not someone our children should be looking to emulate."
Zuffa, the company that acquired the championship in 2001, will unveil the Web site www.mmafacts.com on Monday to argue that it has transformed the sport into more legitimate, and corporate-sponsored, entertainment.
Yet the company has been quietly laying the groundwork for months. In November, Zuffa retained the Albany lobbying firm Brown, McMahon & Weinraub for $10,000 a month, state records show. Then it hired a political consulting firm used by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Global Strategy Group, for media relations. For good measure, the company made a $25,000 donation to the state Democratic Party in mid-January.
"The timing is right," said Marc Ratner, above, the vice president for regulatory and government affairs for Zuffa, which is based in Las Vegas. "We had a lot of other states we were working on and we wanted to devote our full attention to New York, and that's what we're doing now."
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the best-known league devoted to mixed martial arts, though there are several others. Fights are now sanctioned in 32 states, including New Jersey. They are not legal in Connecticut, except at the Mohegan Sun casino, which is on an Indian reservation. The fights appear on cable or pay-per-view, and the sport's emerging stars, like Roger Huerta of U.F.C., have even been on the cover of magazines including Sports Illustrated. ESPN's Web site also has a section devoted to mixed martial arts.
The sport was once known for no-holds-barred cage fights, leading Senator John McCain to label the matches "human cockfights." But the Ultimate Fighting Championship now has a rule book, weight classes and sponsors. The rules? Among other things, no eye gouging, choke holds, hair pulling or below-the-belt shots are allowed, and you can't kick a guy when he's down.
What they do not have yet is a bill, and the governor's office said it could not comment until it saw one.
"We're working on that as we speak, and that should hopefully be forthcoming, but it's not quite ready yet," Mr. Ratner said. "We'll have people on both sides of the aisle. We're very bullish on coming to New York."