- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Lobbyists trying to persuade New York lawmakers to legalize mixed martial arts brought in some celebrity muscle on Monday as women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey visited Albany between appearances on network television in Manhattan.

The Olympic bronze medalist in judo, a relative unknown who called on lawmakers three years ago in a failed attempt at legalization, is now a model, actress and 11-0, and met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She said afterward she didn’t hurt him, and that he expressed support for ending New York’s position as the last state to prohibit the professional sport.

“I think the biggest problem is that New York state is the most dangerous place to do MMA,” Rousey said. “Because MMA is here right now. It’s just not regulated. It’s only allowed on the amateur level. And the amateur athletes, they’re not paid, it’s not regulated, there’s no kind of testing to make sure the athletes are safe. There’s no kind of drug testing.”

The Republican-controlled Senate, as it has done in the past, is expected to vote this week to authorize the New York State Athletic Commission to regulate the professional sport.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly remains the lobbyists’ challenge.

The ascent of Speaker Carl Heastie, former sponsor of a legalization bill, to the leadership post appears to have improved its prospects.

Former Speaker Sheldon Silver was not a fan, though he wasn’t the only lawmaker opposed. Others say the combination of boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu with small gloves inside a cage or other enclosure is too violent and sets a bad example.

The 28-year-old Rousey, who appeared Monday on “The View” and was scheduled to appear Tuesday on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” noted that Silver was recently charged in a corruption scandal. She also said that for her, personally, it’s a dream to fight in Madison Square Garden. Backers of the sport have their eye on it as a lucrative venue.

Rousey said the sport is empowering for women. “Having women shown fighting on TV shows that it’s OK for us to be strong. It’s OK for us to fight,” she said.

Her signature move is an arm bar, where she uses her body as leverage and bends her opponent’s elbow in the opposite direction of the joint. In her last fight, she used it to make her opponent, previously undefeated Cat Zingano, quit in 14 seconds.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who recently voted against the bill in committee, raised concerns about brain injuries, citing a Canadian study showing a higher head trauma rate with MMA than boxing or football. He said cognitive damage, as in football, may appear years later.

He has proposed alternative legislation that would regulate MMA in New York and establish a compensation fund for professional fighters, similar to New York’s jockey fund, which would be paid by the businesses putting on fights. It would tax events with 8.5 percent of ticket receipts and 3 percent of gross broadcasting rights receipts.


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