Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotions company Zuffa LLC announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Zuffa, which owns Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Strikeforce, is seeking to lift the 1997 ban that was placed on MMA and is continuing its efforts to legalize the sport through legislation. The company introduced a bill to legalize MMA this summer, but was unable to get a vote from the New York State Assembly, despite confidence that it could pass.
“Every martial art is legal in New York,” said UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta. “Boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu — you can hold events in every one of them. It’s kind of discriminating that you can’t hold ours, when it’s just a mix of those. We think we’re being singled out.”
Zuffa’s lawyers are arguing that the state’s ban is both unfair and unconstitutional. They further argue that the sport has evolved considerably since the ban was instated, and today is highly regulated and has unified rules. “What they supposedly banned in 1997 isn’t even what we do,” Fertitta said. “It’s a totally different deal.”
Another motivation behind New York’s ban was that the sport conveys a violent message. Barry Friedman, a lawyer working on the case, explains that this is unconstitutional under first amendment rights. “The Supreme Court had a case last year involving violent video games being sold to minors in California, and the Court struck down that law, saying you can’t ban violence as a message,” says Friedman. “So even if that were true, that would not be legitimate because we don’t think that’s the message.” However, proponents of MMA argue that the sports’ real message is about discipline, strength, courage and respect for opponents.