The budget battle currently enveloping New York state is stalling the passage of MMA sanctioning, but turmoil in the state capital is not quite as likely to swallow it as it did last year. That is because unlike past years, MMA has two chances at the legalization process in 2010.
As a result, there is still hope that a bill to legalize and regulate the sport will be passed soon, meaning that the chance of MMA – and even a UFC show – in New York is still alive for 2010. But time is running low.
"Hopefully things go good. We want to be there," UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner
told MMA Fighting in regards to regulation. "I'm cautiously optimistic, but I don't want to say overly optimistic because it's been a real tough time in New York and things can change every hour."
New York's fiscal year began on April 1, and since then, the state has been relying on a series of emergency bills to stay in operation. The extenders – 11 in total so far – have resulted in nearly 60 percent of the budget being passed in piecemeal style. But with the current legislative session scheduled to end on June 21, Paterson has vowed to bring the state to the brink of a shutdown if further progress isn't made on a budget.
With a showdown looming, movement on the budget – including MMA's future – is inevitable, though the exact timetable and outcome is anyone's guess as the political process plays out.
MMA, though, will have two chances at passage because its legalization is included in the governor's proposed budget while in addition being introduced as a standalone bill that is expected to be heard in the senate within the next few days.
If the governor's budget is passed with the included MMA language intact, the sport would be legal without any further legislative debate as soon as a 120-day preparation window passed. But even if the budget language was removed for any reason, the separate senate bill would still give the sport another chance at legalization which would require a vote.
"Our people are taking all the precautions," said Ratner, who in 2009 saw an otherwise well-received bill to legalize the sport effectively killed by political chaos in the state senate that brought non-essential legislative matters to a halt.
New York state assemblyman Bob Reilly
, who has been one of the sport's most outspoken opponents, criticized Paterson for including MMA in his 2010 budget, calling it "an attempt to circumvent the legislative process," and said in a statement that he would continue to lead the charge.
"I will continue to oppose this barbaric sport and do whatever I can to protect children and families from this brutal violence; however, I predict that the legislation will not pass the full Assembly," he said.
Gov. Paterson's budget projects MMA to add about $2 million in revenues per year to the state's tax coffers, though that would be a drop in the bucket against the reported $9 billion shortfall.
Several companies that manage state arenas have voiced their support of MMA, including Madison Square Garden Sports, whose president Scott O'Neill told The New York Times
in March, "The world's fastest-growing sport seems like a perfect fit for the world's most famous arena."
While the chance of MMA passing in 2010 seems possible, less clear is the possibility of a UFC event coming to the Empire State this year. While MSG would likely be the first landing spot for the UFC, given the 120-day prep window, legalization would have to pass before the end of July to make a late 2010 event possible. As each day passes with no decision, early 2011 appears to be more and more likely.
A source told MMA Fighting that the New York state athletic commission has begun at least preliminary preparations for the possibility of MMA regulation.
"We're very much aware that it's a long and difficult political process," Ratner said. "It's tough there but we're still optimistic."