UFC

UFC wins ruling in NY MMA lawsuit

UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein
UFC's Chief Operating Officer Ike Lawrence Epstein.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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The UFC’s case against New York and its ban on mixed martial arts in the state will go forward after federal district court Judge Kimba M. Wood denied the state attorney general’s motion to dismiss the suit, ruling the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged an as-applied vagueness challenge to the law written in 1997.

Specifically, the UFC and fellow plaintiffs including Jon Jones, Gina Carano, Frankie Edgar and others, argued that the combative sport ban is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In declining to dismiss the claim, the court noted the state’s erratic interpretation, application and enforcement of the ban over the years, including an exemption for martial arts sanctioned by various organizations including the World Kickboxing Association.

“A plain reading of this provision suggests plaintiffs would be allowed to promote a professional MMA event in New York if the event were sanctioned by one of the exempt organizations,” Wood noted. Buttressing the vagueness claim, Wood added that while the state originally agreed with that interpretation, they have now reversed course.

While the court dismissed multiple other claims in the suit, including one that the ban violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of expression, Wood ultimately ruled the challenge can go forward.

“We are pleased with the outcome of this crucial ruling,“ UFC’s COO Ike Lawrence Epstein said in a press release issued on Wednesday. “The inconsistency has cost the UFC considerable time and expense, but more important it has deprived MMA’s countless New York fans of the opportunity to attend and enjoy live professional and amateur MMA events in New York. It is time for New York to have a new law on MMA, one that legalizes the sport and regulates it in a safe way, as all other states have done. New York’s law is outdated, written at a time when MMA was a very different sport.”

Wood’s decision agrees with that claim, noting that “MMA has changed substantially since the ban was enacted, making the legislative history, which relates to earlier versions of MMA, of little relevance.”

New York is the only state with an athletic commission that has a ban on the sport. For several years, the UFC has been campaigning the state’s legislative bodies to pass a law to regulate MMA, but despite several successful votes in the State Senate and significant support in the Assembly, the effort has ultimately stalled out when the bill has been held back from a full vote.

In 2013, the UFC even pledged to hold at least four events per year in the state if a law was passed sanctioning the sport. Two of the promotion’s current champions — light-heavyweight Jones and middleweight Chris Weidman — are natives of the state.

The UFC has already said that if the case is not ultimately resolved at the District Court level, they intended to appeal the First Amendment ruling.

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