MANHATTAN (CN) - The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the leading mixed martial arts promoter, claims New York state's 1997 law banning live professional mixed martial arts fighting is unconstitutional and irrational. The UFC claims the ban violates its speech rights by regulating the content of public entertainment.
Zuffa LLC, which owns the UFC, and a group of mixed martial arts fighters, trainers and fans sued New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in Federal Court.
The plaintiffs claim that mixed martial arts (MMA) are derived from traditional martial arts, and emphasize moral, spiritual and social codes as much as technical combat skills.
According to the 105-page complaint, the concept of multidisciplinary martial arts was pioneered by legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, who refused to limit himself to a single fighting style, and became popular in the 1990s.
The plaintiffs claim that MMA, one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the United States, is safer than ever due to regulations that established weight classes, timed rounds, mandatory medical testing and drug screens.
"Originally sensationalized in the early 1990s as a 'no holds barred' fighting spectacle, MMA has evolved into one of the most highly regulated and controlled professional sports," the complaint states. "This, in turn, had fueled MMA's meteoric rise in popularity: MMA fighters grace the covers of mainstream magazines and star in popular home video workout programs, and the UFC is sponsored by the likes of the United States Marine Corps, Harley-Davidson, and Dodge. MMA appeals to fans of nearly every age and demographic, and its influence is widespread. Professional athletes in other sports incorporate MMA into their training regimens, citing the physical benefits but also the mental toughness that MMA builds. MMA techniques and training are taught to members of our nation's military and law enforcement officers. MMA programs have sprung up to help stop bullying against students and instill confidence in them, and to steer kids away from gangs and other at-risk behavior."
In August, the UFC began a 7-year contract with Fox to broadcast MMA matches, shows and related content on Fox channels. According to The New York Times, the contract is worth as much as $100 million annually to the UFC.
The plaintiffs say New York's ban makes no sense, as other sports as violent as mixed martial arts, such as boxing, ice hockey, football and tightrope walking over Niagara Falls, are allowed in New York.
Paradoxically, they say, New York allows mixed martial arts amateur fights and gyms, and individual martial arts that make up the MMA, but prohibits professional mixed martial arts.
According to the complaint: "New York's Live Professional MMA Ban was adopted in 1997, at a time when MMA was in its infancy, had few rules, and was prohibited in many other states. Today, professional MMA operates under a unified set of rules and is permitted in virtually all of the United States, as well as in numerous countries worldwide. Medical experts concur - based on studies and data - that professional MMA is as safe as or safer than many sports that are legal in New York, and, in some cases, wholly unregulated. These include football, ice hockey, downhill skiing, rodeo competitions, equestrian sports, and boxing. Most of the individual martial arts that comprise MMA are legal and performed live regularly in New York. Paradoxically, it is only their combination that is banned."