North Shore fighters react to state’s MMA approval

North Shore fighters react to state’s MMA approval

Fighter Chris Weidman shakes hands with state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. File photo

Discussion of mixed martial arts elicits a wide range of opinions, though very soon one thing will be indisputable: it will be legal in New York.

The state Assembly passed a bill on March 22 that will lift a near 20-year ban on the sport with a 114 to 26 vote, almost two months after the state Senate approved the measure. New York is the only state in the country where it is illegal to take part in a mixed martial arts event.

The bill will become law after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs off, though he has expressed support in the past. Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) was one of the 26 who voted against the bill.

“The legalization of mixed martial arts fighting in New York is the perfect example of what former Sen. Patrick Moynihan would characterize as ‘defining deviancy down’ and normalizing a dangerous blood sport in the name of economic development,” Fitzpatrick said in a press release. “This is not the economic development our state needs. I am concerned about the health of fighters and what message normalizing and lauding violence sends to our children and families. Just because 49 other states do it doesn’t make it right for New York. Legalizing MMA is the wrong move for our state.”

Assemblyman Chad A. Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) cosponsored the bill.

“I am thrilled that the Assembly has finally passed legislation to bring this highly skilled sport to the arenas and venues across New York State,” Lupinacci said in a press release. “There are many fighters native to New York who have been forced to leave the state to pursue their dream of competing professionally. Legalization will allow them to stay in their hometowns and compete in front of their families and friends.”

Reactions to the vote reverberated across the MMA community.

“I truly appreciate the New York State Assembly as a whole to finally get this bill passed,” Baldwin native and active Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Chris Weidman said in an email through his media contact. UFC is the premier MMA governing body in the world.

“Along with the UFC, I campaigned very hard to get this done and made sure the people of New York were educated about mixed martial arts and how important it is for the sport to be regulated in our state,” Weidman added. “The people of New York have spoken and I think in the very near future I will be able to showcase my craft and my hard work to the people of New York. I’m sure the UFC has big plans for the first UFC event in New York in history. I have no idea what they’ve got in the works, but I think an event at Madison Square Garden has to happen. I would love nothing more than to defend my title on my home turf in that arena.”

North Shore native and United States Marine Corps veteran Devin Mollberg, who has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and boxing as a pastime since his return from service in Afghanistan in 2014, offered his perspective on the decision. Mollberg, 28, has said he hopes to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.

“It’s about time,” Mollberg said in an interview. “It’s a great thing for all N.Y. fighters and definitely a positive thing for the state. It should have happened a long time ago but now there is nothing but good things to come from here.”

The decision will generate 525 permanent jobs and about $70 million in annual spending, according to Lupinacci’s release. Assemblymen Andy Raia (R-East Northport) and Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) both voted in favor of the bill.