The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and a group of plaintiffs including fighters, fans, trainers and others involved with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) announced today that they have filed a lawsuit against New York State officials challenging the constitutionality of the state law banning live professional MMA events and associated activities (the “Ban”). The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenges the Ban for violating numerous provisions of the United States Constitution, including the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the Ban infringes upon the rights of the fighters who want to publicly exhibit their skills as professionals and express themselves before a live audience, the rights of fans who would like to experience live professional MMA events, and the rights of those who train, publicize or otherwise advance MMA in New York. Plaintiffs point to the following as evidence of the irrational, unconstitutional nature of the Ban:
• The Ban was originally imposed in 1997, at a time when MMA was unregulated and prohibited in many other states. Today, MMA is a highly-regulated, broadly popular sport, which experts and supporting safety data verify is as safe as or safer than many sports and activities that are legal in New York, including boxing, football and rodeo.
• MMA is widely available on television in New York, and many New Yorkers lawfully train and spar in MMA.
• Live professional MMA can take place in virtually every state except New York.
• The individual martial arts that comprise MMA, including kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing and wrestling, are legal and performed live regularly in New York – it is only their combination, performed live by professionals, that is banned in New York.
“MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and one of the most popular in the world,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO of Zuffa LLC, owner of the UFC. “When we acquired the UFC, we went to great lengths to invite regulation and adopt substantial safety measures. MMA is now as safe as or even safer than many other sports and activities sanctioned in New York like boxing, for example, because it allows fighters to honorably tap out and involves far fewer hits. All the disciplines that go into mixed martial arts are performed live in New York; it is only their combination that is illegal. Denying fighters the chance to exhibit their training and skills before a live audience and denying thousands of New Yorkers the ability to watch their favorite fighters perform live is not only an injustice to them, but to the local markets that would reap tremendous economic benefits from hosting competitions. We believe the ban should be eliminated, and look forward to fighting live in New York.”
“It is unfortunate that we were forced to take the step of filing a lawsuit to overturn this senseless law, but the ban on live professional MMA infringes on the rights of countless New Yorkers,” said Barry Friedman, a constitutional law professor at New York University School of Law and co-counsel with Morrison & Foerster LLP for the Plaintiffs. “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. In live events, fighters showcase their talents, communicate their convictions, show respect for their opponents and the art and tradition of MMA, and convey the importance of discipline, training and hard work. They also entertain their fans. Not only does the law prohibit live events, but as it is written it purports to ban other speech including media broadcasts and coverage of professional MMA. It is ironic that New York — in many ways the home of free expression, the global media, and the art world — would deny someone his or her fundamental freedom of expression. The Ban is contrary to what New York is all about. There is no legal basis for this unconstitutional ban to persist.”
“Performing MMA live in front of a crowd is an unrivaled experience and allows me to speak to my fans,” said Plaintiff and UFC competitor Brian Stann. “I was attracted to MMA during my time in the Marine Corps, after I returned from my first deployment to Iraq in 2005 and was looking for a path that allowed me to stay motivated, and inspire others, particularly fellow veterans. MMA is a brotherhood that demands respect for your fellow fighters and rewards mental discipline and skill. It has given countless veterans a way to rehabilitate and connect with other military veterans and I am grateful every day for the ability to compete and inspire my fans.”
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