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New York Legalizes Professional Mixed Martial Arts Fights

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) signed into law a measure that will allow professional mixed martial arts in New York. Behind him are UFC athletes Chris Weidman (left) and Ronda Rousey.

New York has ended its ban on professional mixed martial arts — the last state in the U.S. to do so — and the Ultimate Fighting Championship wasted no time in announcing a match at Madison Square Garden.

The league said it will host a major pay-per-view event at the storied venue on Nov. 12.

"Our commitment to bringing incredible live events to New York starts immediately," UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said at Thursday's bill-signing event with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor echoed that sentiment.

"It's time to bring mixed martial arts competitions to the New York stage. With venues like Madison Square Garden, New York truly is the international icon for great sporting events, and we're excited to begin a new chapter of MMA in the Empire State," Cuomo said in a statement.

Ending the 1997 ban on pro MMA fights will also "close a statutory loophole under which unregulated and unsupervised 'amateur' mixed martial arts competitions had been occurring in New York State," the statement read.

With mixed martial arts contests newly under the purview of the New York State Athletic Commission, the governor's office touts that the industry will bring in $137 million, once it is operating at "full programming capacity."

The law also ensures the athletes' safety — at least to the extent that a sport where competitors kick and punch each other into submission can be safe.

In New York's semiregulated amateur MMA circuit, fighters were allowed to compete without being tested for blood-borne illnesses like HIV or hepatitis C, as Deadspin wrote when it reported on the MMA legalization bill in 2014.

In a sport where blood is nearly as inevitable as winning and losing, not testing athletes for such illnesses is a concern.

Deadspin wrote:

"The problem is that while these fights are nominally regulated by private organizations, some of them are, in practice, not regulated at all. That's why fighters can compete in New York with HIV, hepatitis C, and other conditions that would prevent them from getting in a cage anywhere else in the United States."

It also noted that some of the amateur events did not have doctors on scene, instead relying "on paramedics, acupuncturists, or calls to 911 operators."

After citing the number of jobs MMA will create and the revenue dollars it will draw, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in the statement from the governor's office: "More than that, this bill will help safeguard the health and welfare of these professional athletes."

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