Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he's not opposed to mixed martial arts and he publicly invited its promoters to make the case that the state will get an economic boost from legalizing it.
"I think it's something that should be pursued, definitely," Cuomo said. "I want to understand it, basically. Let's talk about the economics of the state. What's the actual economic impact? What does it do for the state?"
The Senate last week approved a bill to legalize and regulate the combat sport that includes boxing, judo, wrestling and kickboxing. Most states allow it, with bouts sometimes broadcast on national television.
The Assembly has blocked the legislation for seven years. Opponents criticized the sport's violence, calling it a bad example for children. However, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said last week he now expects it to be legalized, but he wasn't sure when.
The issue for several years split a Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-dominated Assembly. However, the bill passed the Senate now ruled by a bipartisan coalition, and backers claim there is enough support among Assembly Democrats to pass it if their leaders permit the floor vote.
Cuomo said Tuesday that he wants to discuss its economics during the current legislative session, which runs through June, though he said it wasn't part of the proposed state budget for the April 1 fiscal year because these questions still need to be answered. He said he has watched MMA but doesn't follow it and doesn't have an opinion about it as a sport.
"I don't have a feeling towards the sport that says, 'That sport should not happen in the state," he said. "My question is: Why should we do it? The obvious answer is that it could be an economic impact to the state, and you could generate economic activity. That could be persuasive, if it's true."
Lobbyists from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport's major brand, and some of its top fighters have come to Albany to try to persuade legislators to legalize it. One of their goals is access to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, a large venue they say they can fill with big fights.
Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for UFC, said the sport is legal in 48 states, actively regulated in 45, and it hasn't been legalized in Connecticut, where they are also lobbying.
"What is MMA's willingness to make a commitment to the state in terms of the events and where would the events be?" Cuomo said. "Now, if they said, 'We're doing a series of events, in upstate New York. We think that an event in upstate New York has the potential to draw people from the downstate area, from New England, bringing people for hotels, they're going to have an economic impact, you know, that would be persuasive."
Cuomo said state economic development officials are looking at hosting sporting and other events as ways to draw crowds of visitors who spend money.
UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said later Tuesday that once the sport is legalized and regulated in New York, his group will hold at least four events a year for the next three years, more than half in cities across upstate New York. "I have been to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Albany and would look forward to attending UFC events in all of those cities," he said.
Fertitta said other promoters, including Bellator and World Series of Fighting, are also eager to mount shows in New York.