Lawsuit: N.Y. MMA ban unconstitutional

Updated: November 15, 2011, 12:54 PM ET
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

The UFC filed a lawsuit against New York state officials on Tuesday, claiming the state's ban on mixed martial arts is unfair and unconstitutional.

Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce, has fought hard in favor of legalizing MMA in New York in recent years. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., seeks to have New York's MMA ban ruled in violation of the First Amendment.

Because other martial arts are sanctioned in New York, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN.com he believes it's a clear case of discrimination toward MMA.

"Every martial art is legal in New York," Fertitta said. "Boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu -- you can hold events in every one of them. It's kind of discriminating that you can't hold ours, when it's just a mix of those. We think we're being singled out."

Spokesmen for Schneiderman and Vance declined comment on the lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal reported.

This summer, a bill legalizing MMA in New York was passed through multiple legislative committees and the New York State Senate, but failed to make it to the New York State Assembly floor for a vote.

Despite Zuffa's efforts, a bill to regulate the sport has never reached the critical point of an assembly vote.

"The political process hasn't worked out the way it's supposed to," Fertitta said. "Meaning, you go through a process, legislators vote up or down. We haven't been able to get a vote.

"As of yet, the house majority leader has not let it go to a vote and we're confident we have the votes that would make this become a law."

The sport was banned in the state of New York in 1997, just days before UFC 12 was scheduled to take place in Niagara Falls. According to Fertitta, with the changes made to MMA in the years since, that legal action doesn't even apply anymore.

"What they supposedly banned in 1997 isn't even what we do," he said. "It's a totally different deal."

Representing the plaintiffs in the case is New York University School of Law professor Barry Friedman.

The UFC has been instrumental in pushing through legislation in other locations, such as Toronto and Vancouver, without legal action. Clearly frustrated by this year's similar outcome in New York politics, its officials have decided to go one step further.

"It is unfortunate we are forced to take the step of filing a lawsuit to overturn this senseless law," Friedman in a statement, "but the ban on live professional MMA infringes on the rights of countless New Yorkers. "Despite sincere legislative efforts, the ban remains in place based on a flawed assessment of the sport's supposedly 'violent message.' This rationale is a patent violation of the First Amendment."

Brett Okamoto is a mixed martial arts writer for ESPN.com.

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