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MMA in New York takes huge step toward getting approved

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In nearly a decade of starts and stops, professional mixed martial arts in New York has never come closer to being legal and regulated.

The bill to approve MMA will finally be voted on by the New York State Assembly next week, speaker Carl Heastie said Tuesday through a spokesperson (h/t Newsday). Heastie said the fact the bill is going to a vote means it will be passed.

It remains unclear what day the bill will be voted on. Three committees still have to approve it before it hits the Assembly floor.

But the news was so significant Tuesday that the UFC sent out a press release about it and UFC president Dana White reacted on Twitter. New York's state Senate has passed the MMA bill for seven straight years, but the Assembly has never even voted on it. New York is the only remaining state where pro mixed martial arts is illegal.

"We want to thank Speaker Heastie and of course we also need to thank Majority Leader [Joseph] Morelle, who has worked tirelessly to educate his colleagues and build support on both sides of the aisle, but particularly among Assembly Democrats," UFC vice president of global business development and government relations Michael J. Britt said in a statement. "Our thanks, as well, go to those legislators in both houses and both parties who have supported this effort over the years.

"This is a big step forward for MMA, the athletes and the huge fan base the sport enjoys in New York, however, there are still more steps before New York finally crosses the hurdle to legalize professional MMA.  We look forward to working with the chairs of the committees and all Assembly members to provide them with any information they may need as they address the bill to legalize and regulate MMA."

The difference this year, according to reports, is that the MMA bill received more support from the Democrats in the Assembly. Though it would have likely passed if brought to a vote in any of the last six years, the bill did not have enough votes from the Democratic majority to be brought up to the whole body. Much of that might have had to do with the influence of former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted on federal corruption charges in November. This is Heastie's first full year as speaker.

The MMA bill needs 76 votes to pass in the Assembly and it is believed that 80 Democrats alone will vote yes, according to Newsday. If approved, the bill will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign and he is likely to push it through, especially since MMA was in his budget proposal for this year.

The New York State Athletic Commission would have 120 days to set up rules and regulations if the MMA bill gets through the legislative process unscathed.

The UFC tried to force the state's hand with a lawsuit on two separate occasions. The promotion scheduled an event at Madison Square Garden in New York City for April to prompt legal recourse, but it didn't work out and UFC 197 was moved to Las Vegas.

Now, victory is in sight for the organization and the sport. A UFC event at MSG is likely before the end of 2016 thanks to Tuesday's news -- and the promotion already has a date approved there in November, according to Newsday.