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Flashback: When New York Banned MMA in 1997

Flashback: When New York Banned MMA in 1997

When it comes to MMA journalism, Dave Meltzer is the only one still working who around when the sport first came to the United States. Therefore, when he takes a walk down memory lane, and raps about how New York’s 1997 ban on cagefighting came about, he’s talking from firsthand knowledge.

I was just a fan back then, so my perspective was limited – which makes Meltzer’s story on MMAFighting about the circumstances surrounding that ban all the more enlightening. It’s relevance is, of course, obvious: New York just lifted that ban recently, paving the way for UFCs at Madison Square Garden and Bellators at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. So sit back, relax, and take in a bit of history. Here’s a sample:

After lengthy deliberations, the Governor of New York signed into law a bill that put the Ultimate Fighting Championship events under the auspices of the New York State Athletic Commission, and ended any questions about the legality of the company’s events.

The law will go into effect in 120 days, and the UFC has planned two events for the state over the next several months.

That’s the lead for a story I could write in a few days, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill that made New York the final state in the nation to legalize and regulate MMA, after a nearly-decade long fight.

But few realize that I already wrote almost those exact words in a Wrestling Observer Newsletter article on Oct. 10, 1996, the day then-Gov. George Pataki signed the legislation to legalize the UFC in the Empire State. The bill breezed through both the New York State Senate and the Assembly, making New York the first state to, by law, legalize and sanction UFC events.

The story of what happened nearly 20 years ago in New York, particularly after the sadly comedic hearing prior to the passage of the 2016 legalization bill in the Assembly, is a reminder of how much things have changed in two decades. It’s also a reminder of just how much they haven’t.

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