(Photo courtesy of Newsday.)
Great news, fight fans — we now officially know more New York State Assemblymen who support the regulation of MMA in New York than those who are against it.
A lifelong resident of Long Island, Rob Walker has been a member of the New York State Assembly since 2005 and currently sits on the Assembly Committee for Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development. And like our friend Jonathan Bing, Walker is a co-sponsor of the bill to lift the MMA ban in New York. We called Assemblyman Walker at his office yesterday to discuss the public support for MMA in Long Island and why it’s finally time for New York State to say “yes” to safe, sanctioned competition.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: How did you become involved with the Tourism, Arts and Sports Development Committee?
ROB WALKER: Prior to my election, I was the deputy commissioner of parks in the town of Oyster Bay, so it was just logical that when they handed out committee assignments, I’d wind up on the committee that oversees parks, recreation and tourism. I took my role in local government and brought it to the State Legislature.
What initially drew you to the MMA regulation issue?
First and foremost, I actually have some constituents and friends that have been fighting in New Jersey and everywhere else, and they brought it to my attention that we can’t even hold events because it’s not sanctioned in New York State. So that was the first knowledge I had of the sport, and then with the bill that was coming out last year we got more intimately involved and gained some more knowledge of what it’s about. We’re just trying to learn all we can before we take some action.
Why is it a good time to finally lift the ban on MMA in New York?
I think there are a couple reasons. First, the economic advantages are quite apparent. And it’s also what we’re competing against — New York is competing against many states that border it, and we’re losing out. Our residents are going across state lines to compete, and why should New York be one of five or six states that don’t allow participation in MMA? What’s ironic about this bill is that it’s not even demanding that the athletic commission remove the ban; we’re simply giving the athletic commission the ability to go in and see if they want to provide sanctions.
What do you think of Assemblyman Bob Reilly’s arguments that MMA would breed more violence in society, and that it would be economically harmful to New York?
I think it’ll be an economic win for New York. Long Island, New York City, and upstate are already looking to host events. Obviously this is going to have a major economic impact on a positive level. And I think it’s a much different sport from where it was five, ten years ago. If you look at the injury rates, they’re actually less than boxing. So that right there is a telltale sign, and those were studies that were done by private, independent organizations that went out and made sure, and put the numbers right in front of me. [Safety] is a concern, but with every serious proposal comes a lot of questions, and we have a lot of answers about why this is such a prudent and well-thought-out process. And it’s taking place already — there are people who are holding fights in their basements, doing underground events. Now at least by having sanctions we can make sure there is proper oversight.
You mentioned that you have constituents in your district who actually compete in MMA. Assemblyman Reilly had his poll to conclude that New Yorkers in Clifton Park or Albany didn’t want the sport. Have you gotten any sense of the public support in your area?
I’ve had a lot of people come up that have been supporting it, and there’s a lot of martial arts studios and businesses that would really like to see this happen as well. So I have more constituents that are talking openly and positively about it. And again, all this bill does — which I think is somewhat of a misconception — it doesn’t say “oh great, now we’re going to have it.” It allows the athletic commission to say “yes we do want to allow MMA, and these are the sanctions that have to be imposed.”
One of the notable MMA athletes who is often associated with the fight to legalize the sport in New York is former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, who runs a gym in East Meadow, just a stone’s throw from your office in Hicksville. Have you ever met with him about this issue?
No I haven’t, but I’m planning to go over to his business and visit.
What about the fighters and trainers that you have met — how have they influenced your views about MMA?
Most importantly, the safety aspect. The safety of all the fighters is the most important thing, and everyone that I’ve come across has nothing but positive things to say. They go above and beyond the requirements that they need to have in place — trainers, emergency management, soup to nuts, what’s really needed. And then the rounds, the amount of time they can compete, all those things that are so important. That’s why I think the fighters are the greatest advocates, because they know first-hand what they’re doing.
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!