Albany Times Union: Addressing concerns of Senator Liz Krueger and others who oppose the legalization of MMA
May 25, 2011
By Kevin Marshall
On Monday the New York State Senate passed a bill to legalize Mixed Martial Arts, but it was not without its critics. One of them was Senator Liz Krueger of New York County. She was the only one who actually spoke during debate in opposition of the bill, and as such I’ve decided to take some of her concerns and discuss them.
Mind you, I’m not trying to be unfair to Senator Krueger, but I do want to make clear some important points regarding the criticisms she levied against the sport, particularly since they are not just reflective of Senator Kreuger’s opinion but also of other opponents of the measure in the Capitol, particularly those in the Assembly who could see a vote in the last days of their session.
What follows are her main points of contention and my comments. For the sake of not making this into an opus, I’m going to focus specifically on her comments starting at the 5:54 mark of the above video.
1. MMA requires participants to do the most damage possible.
- MMA judging is actually based on four criteria: clean strikes, effective grappling, octagon control, and aggressiveness. “Clean strikes” refers to contact rather than a measurement of force. Effective grappling is wrestling and submissions. Aggressiveness refers to dictating the overall pace of the fight. Actual physical damage is NOT a criteria for judging. Fighters can and do win decisions who have received more visible ”damage” because they excelled all areas of the judging criteria.
2. Studies show that strikes on the ground are delivered with 910 Kilos of force.
- That’s if a fighter is in a dominant position, unrestrained, against an opponent who is not struggling, which never happens. Fights are stopped well before it would get to that point where a fighter is not be able to defend himself effectively and/or intelligently.
3. The media under-reports damage to fighters.
- This is a point Senator Krueger made several times, and I’m not exactly sure if she’s referring to specific claims or making an anecdotal observation. I’m also not sure if she’s talking about the mainstream media or specifically the leg of the sports media that covers MMA. I follow several MMA sites that release a full lists of medical suspensions enacted by State Athletic Commissions after a fight card. For those that aren’t aware, a medical suspension states that a fighter after a knockout, grueling fight, and/or injury sustained in a bout will have to undergo a number of days – anywhere from sixty to ninety – with no physical contact and no fighting until they are cleared by a medical professional and approved by the Athletic Commission. The disclosure of injuries is the norm in MMA coverage. As for mainstream media, if there were a way to further sensationalize the dangers of the sport, does anyone think they’d really hold back?
4. [MMA] does not have as great a rate of death and injury as boxing because it is not as popular and hasn’t been around as long.
- We are quickly approaching that juncture. There is a point, though, that we still don’t know the extent of long-term damage that can accrue from a career in MMA. On that same token, we are only now discovering the long-term effects of athletes in other sports such as football. The problem isn’t just that MMA hasn’t been around, it’s that sports as a whole haven’t been under the microscope for concussions until the last decade (and really only within the last five years).
5. “Not as many people participate in MMA as in boxing.”
- I would have agreed just a few years ago, but I’d actually be interested to see the current numbers. With the sudden spike of gyms that offer MMA training, I suspect that may not be the case anymore, at least as far as the United States is concerned.
6. “Thirteen deaths have been reported prior to the establishment of the current organizations and current guidelines.”
- What Krueger is referring to are the 13 deaths that were reported before the establishment of the Unified Rules of MMA, which were established by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission in 1997. Since then there have been three (not two as Krueger claims): one in the Ukraine in 1998 (an unsanctioned event overseas), one in Texas in 2007 and one in South Carolina in June of 2010. The latter two passed away due to brain hemorrhages. Both are tragedies, and both sadly could have been avoided if those two fighters had been competing in a State like Nevada, California, or yes even New York where there is a competent Athletic Commission with a rigid set of guidelines. Those deaths, particularly that of Kirkham in South Carolina, speaks more to the shortcomings of Texas and South Carolina’s overseeing bodies than it does the sport of MMA.
7. Boxing has a skill set to determine a winner, but in [MMA] the measurement of success of the bout is primarily knockout or submission.
- Not necessarily. Just looking at five recent UFC events – 125, 126, 127, 128, and 129 – 18 ended in a knockout or technical knockout, 10 ended in submission, and 28 ended in a decision. It should also be noted that most “knockouts” as opponents see them are, in fact, referee stoppages. It is the job of the referee to stop the fight before a fighter is rendered unconscious or put in a potentially dangerous situation. Just like in boxing there are some flash knockouts, but they are rare.
8. “Unless and until we establish what activities can and will be recognized in the ring and what protections both in contract and promotions and on behalf of fighters who some people will stand up and say they’re choosing to go into the ring…we as legislators endlessly day in and day out make tough decisions about what activities we’re going to recognize as legal or illegal and approve.”
- Her concerns are actually covered not only by promotions like the UFC, which provide health insurance and recently gave fighters insurance to protect them if they get injured in preparation for a fight, but more importantly by State Athletic Commission oversight and the very legislation she voted against.
Krueger also brings up outside the ring protection from unscrupulous promoters, such as the Ali Act passed by Congress in 2000. It’s an understandable concern but one that’s rooted in a misconception and lack of knowledge of the inherently different organizational and promotional structures of the two industries of boxing and MMA. If there ever is a time when those concerns addressed by the Ali Act appear and/or have some validity in the industry of MMA, it can be addressed. Until then it’s a moot point, not because we’re talking about boxing reform in relation to MMA, but because it’ll be neither here nor there if the sport itself isn’t legal in the first place.
If you think I’m cherry-picking, these are just the tangible points. There are other areas – such as the assertion she and other critics make that it is somehow New York State’s responsibility not to approve MMA because it has a detrimental effect on society – where there really isn’t any point in debating, because their arguments are based on intangible and unfounded moral objections. Senator Krueger in her testimony may have unintentionally provided an unfair caricature of opponents of the legalization of MMA in New York State: mistaken, misguided, and distorting what little information they do have to support claims which are dubious at best.
There’s no real reason for the Assembly not to follow the example of the Senate and overwhelmingly pass this legislation.
If you support the legalization of MMA in New York State, contact your representative and tell them you want MMA legalized during this session! It will only take a few minutes and could make all the difference.