In our efforts to spread awareness about the current fight to legalize mixed martial arts in New York State, we’ve wasted a lot of energy shaking our fists at the opposition. So let’s all take a deep breath and keep in mind one thing — Assemblyman Bob Reilly is just one man, with one vote. Luckily, there are reasonable men and women on the Assembly Committee for Tourism, Arts and Sports Development, who have a different idea about what’s best for New York and its athletes.
One of those men is Jonathan Bing. Representing New York’s 73rd Assembly District since 2002, Bing is a co-sponsor of the bill to regulate our sport in the Empire State. Though his work in the State Assembly has included everything from organizing free flu shots for seniors and dental exams for children, to helping 9/11 rescue and clean-up workers attain workman’s compensation benefits, he is now at the forefront of the movement to lift NY’s outdated 12-year-old ban on MMA. We recently caught up with Assemblyman Bing to discuss how MMA would help New York, the arguments of its critics, and when MMA could finally come to Madison Square Garden.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: What initially drew you to the MMA legalization issue?
JONATHAN BING: As a member of the Assembly Tourism Committee, this issue has been before the committee for about a year now, and due to my membership on that committee and my interest in tourism and cultural issues, I became involved.
Had you been a fan of the sport before, or at least aware of it?
I’ve been aware of it. I’m not particularly a fan of the sport, but I’m a fan of increasing revenue to the state of New York, and I’m a fan of high-quality athletics. It’s not really something that I personally would order a pay-per-view for, but I appreciate what it would mean to the state in terms of revenue, and I appreciate the quality of the athletes participating in it.
Why is it a good time to finally lift the ban on MMA in New York?
Well, it’s something that pretty much every state with an athletic commission has approved, so we know it’s been working in other states, and we know how successful it’s been in terms of raising revenue. We’re in a desperate fiscal time right now where we’re looking for any way possible to raise revenue in New York State, and this would provide perhaps millions of dollars if we were to allow these competitions.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly has been very vocal about his opposition to your bill. Have you had any personal discussions with him about it?
What’s the sense you get from him? Can the man be reasoned with?
I think it’s possible. But the opposition is operating based on conceptions of the sport from decades ago. This is a highly regulated sport, the athletes are in prime physical condition — much better condition than a lot of boxers are. The athletes are highly educated; I think it’s something like 80% of MMA athletes have college degrees. There’s great supervision in terms of the health of these individuals, and the disciplines and martial arts involved in MMA have been around for thousands of years. I think that’s enough to prove that this is an event that should be allowed in New York.
During a recent press conference, Mr. Reilly brought up a few basic arguments why MMA shouldn’t be allowed in New York. I wanted to go through them, and get your reactions. First, he said MMA is a very violent sport, which would actually breed more violence in society. He even compared MMA to dogfighting. What do you think about the idea that MMA is too brutal to be allowed in the state?
Every relative I have who skis has gotten a serious injury that is much greater than any injury that occurs regularly within MMA. It’s a sport, and it’s highly regulated with referees and physicians and care of the athletes. I don’t think you can call it dogfighting when 36 of the 44 states that have athletic commissions have approved MMA, and it’s been very successful in terms of fan involvement. This is not what is perceived as the fakery of pro wrestling. This is a sport using disciplines many of which are Olympic sports. How do you call something barbaric, when most of the sports that make up MMA are competitions in the Olympics?
Assemblyman Reilly’s opposition to the sport seems to be in large part a question of morality. He compared MMA to prostitution and gambling, and said that just because these activities would bring in tax and tourism dollars — and just because some New Yorkers want to engage in them — it doesn’t mean they should be allowed in New York just because the state has a budget deficit. What do you think of those comparisons?
I think war is immoral, and I think torture is immoral. I don’t think that a sport that’s as highly regulated as MMA should be described with the same adjectives as things that are truly immoral. The hyperbole used by those in the opposition doesn’t really make sense to me.
Finally, Assemblyman Reilly stated that MMA would actually be economically harmful to New York; that it would take money out of the state. And he cited examples of casinos being surrounded by areas of poverty as a comparison. From your research on the issue, would MMA regulation be economically beneficial to New York?
Everything that I’ve seen has shown that it would be. Already in New York City there are billboards in Times Square advertising MMA bouts. Why should we be sending money out of state for these bouts when obviously there’s a huge fan-base in New York, and if we can hold these events here, it’s going to mean millions of dollars for New York City and New York State. And I think if you put a competition in Buffalo, if you put a competition in New York City, or if you put a competition at the Turning Stone Casino in the Niagara Falls area, it’s going to mean a lot of revenue for the state.
In addition, as the chairwoman of the state athletic commission pointed out, illegal bouts that are taking place in New York cannot be prosecuted because there’s no regulation of the sport whatsoever. That’s why the chairwoman of the state athletic commission is a supporter of this legislation, because by regulating this sport, it allows us to define what is appropriate competition, and allows the state to go after inappropriate competition. So if we’re concerned about whether there are fights that should not be taking place in New York, the way to do it is by regulating the sport and then going after the fights that don’t qualify for this type of competition.
But nothing I’ve seen has convinced me that this would be a negative for New York, and everything that I’ve seen in terms of the studies of the economic benefits of the sport in other states has led me to the conclusion that this is something that New York State needs now, and I’m glad to see that people — whether it’s the New York Post editorial board or citizens around the state — are starting to write their legislators and asking them to move forward with this bill.
Well, we know where you stand, and we know where Bob Reilly stands — but do you have any sense of how many of the other members of your committee support the bill?
I think it’s pretty even. It would be a close vote if the vote took place today. But I don’t expect a vote on it until after Easter at the earliest, because we are grappling with our state budget, which is due at the end of the month, and that controls everything that we’re doing right now. I really encourage New Yorkers who care about this to contact their legislators and tell them why it’s important for them to vote in favor of this bill.
Theoretically, when’s the soonest we could see MMA events in New York? Is it possible for the end of this year?
I don’t know specifically what the bill says in terms of the effective date, I don’t know if there’s a waiting period, but the legislative session ends in June, so assuming the bill is passed before the end of the year, and the governor signs it, perhaps as early as the beginning of 2010 you would see competitions. But that’s a big "if." The bill still has to pass the assembly, pass the senate, have the governor sign it, and then we have to start competing with all the other states that are way ahead of us in terms of [hosting these events]. But New York is still the capital of the world, and I’m sure that when this market is opened up, people will want to have bouts in the state of New York, because the cache of holding sporting events in the state that has teams like the Yankees is still very strong.
So when the UFC holds its first show at Madison Square Garden, will you be there?
I’d be happy to be there to celebrate the first bout that takes place in the city and state of New York.
Important: If you’re a New York resident and you’d like to voice your support of MMA regulation directly to legislators, go to MMAFacts.com/contactyourlegislator. And if you’re on Facebook, please join the Bring MMA to NY group!