Written By: Lance Edwards
There are a lot of people that complain about the current state of MMA here in Houston and in Texas, but things could be worse. Just ask MMA fans in New York, a state where MMA is illegal. There’s a movement underway to try and legalize MMA in New York and helping in that cause is Steven Jefferies, a UH Law student who studies in Houston but is active in educating people about MMA and the importance of legalizing it in New York. He writes a blog on the subject, in which he shares up to date information about the latest goings-on. I had a chance to talk with Jefferies about his quest to legalize MMA in the empire state.
TCD.net: So what’s your link with Houston and the New York MMA scene?
Steven: Well I was born in Houston, I went to High School in California, College in New Orleans, and then moved to New York where I worked for a year. I’m now at Law School at The University of Houston, and am in my second year, so have been back here about a year and a half now.
TCD.net: How did you get interested in the issue of MMA legalization in New York?
Steven: Well it was brought to my attention a few years ago, and in the past year I’ve become interested in the legislative aspect of what’s going on. In Law School I looked deeper at what had been happening and started to research. I found there wasn’t a central source for information, and I’d have to look at a variety of sites and try to piece together what was going on. I started to think that there was a need for a source, somewhere people could go to get all the information, as I was trying to learn and having to piece it all together myself.
TCD.net: Why MMA?
Steven: I’ve been a fan of MMA for a long time; I actually train BJJ with Draculino at his school. I want to be a manager or agent of fighters in the future and want to go back to live in New York, so it’s a natural interest for me.
TCD.net: I’m aware the UFC have been pushing the legalization of MMA in New York for a while.
Steven: The UFC’s been involved for several years, they paid a lobbying company in Albany, which is the state capitol of New York. They also have made contributions to Governor Cuomo’s campaign. I think really though the grassroots movement has lagged behind. I was up in New York for a month recently, talking to the gym owners and fighters, and I feel there really needs to be a grassroots movement to educate people about the misconception of MMA’s brutality.
TCD.net: So is it likely we’ll see a change soon?
Steven: New York has just started it’s legislative session on January 5th. To give you an idea of how busy they are, they’ve introduced nearly 5000 bills to push through Senate. Legalizing MMA is not the most popular subject as it’s controversial.
TCD.net: The UFC did hold an event in Buffalo, New York though?
Steven: Yes that’s right UFC VII in 1995, it actually had a great attendance. The super fight was Oleg Taktarov vs Ken Shamrock, and what’s interesting is that it was that fight, which lead to judges and time limits being introduced as it went on for thirty-three minutes and ended in a draw. At the time MMA wasn’t legal, but also wasn’t illegal. Following that MMA was sanctioned in New York at the time, and the UFC planned to have another event in New York. A few weeks before the event, there was a lot of pressure by McCain pushing his attack on MMA. The State Governor changed the rules in such a way that it was impossible for the event to happen, and following that they then made MMA events illegal. If you look on my site there’s a timeline on there.
TCD.net: Why has it taken so long for New York to legalize MMA again?
Steven: That’s a good question, I guess the politicians. New York is often accused of being a nanny state with fearful politics, as one New York Assemblyman recently pointed out at UFC’s press conference at Madison Square Garden, and tends to be slow to implement legal changes.
TCD.net: Weren’t they one of the last states to legalize tattooing in 1997?
Steven: I didn’t know that, but that would be a similar example.
TCD.net: Will they push it through this year?
Steven: The major thing is whether it is in the governor’s budget, if it is it’s much more likely to pass through than as a separate bill. That could be in a few months if it was, and that would really be the best case scenario. If not we have to deal with the drafting of a bill as a standalone.
TCD.net: Who’s drafting the bill?
Steven: That’s something I’ve been trying to find out. I spoke to the sports attorney who helped draft the last bill which passed the senate but was rejected by the assembly, but at this point I’m not sure.
TCD.net: How many states are left to legalize MMA?
Steven: Well it’s legal in forty-four states. New York and West Virginia are the only two states that have an athletic commission, which is the necessary governing body, that don’t allow it.
We’re playing the waiting game right now. If it’s not in the budget we have a whole round of fighting to do. In the meantime, it’s about educating. Some of the politicians don’t know anything about MMA, they know it’s a combat sport and they have been using it to push their anti-violence agenda. They use it to push their politics when they don’t know the sport. The Unified Rules, adopted in 2001, have transformed modern MMA, but they speak about kicking opponents on the ground, and striking opponents who can’t defend themselves when they are down; it’s obvious to people who know MMA they aren’t educated, but for the general public who may have flipped past it on a TV channel, they believe what their elected representative says.
I’m trying to depict through the gym owners and fighters that it’s not like that. MMA to me is an extension of the traditional martial arts, and contains the good aspects such as camaraderie, sportsmanship and the benefits the traditional martial arts have. These are athletes who compete because they enjoy it. We have to overcome ignorance of the people who call it what it’s not
TCD.net: Thanks Steven, we wish you well and hope it gets legalized there soon.