ALBANY — Professional mixed martial arts bouts are now legal in New York.
A law lifting the state's nearly two-decade ban on professional MMA took effect Thursday, clearing the way for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other promoters to host fights in New York venues.
The measure took effect a day after the state Athletic Commission approved a set of regulations for combative sports that raised concern from small-to-mid level boxing and MMA promoters, who fear a costly set of insurance requirements could price them out of the market.
The insurance rules, which were required by law, require promoters to have a $50,000 insurance policy for each fighter to cover injuries and $1 million policy to cover hospital care if a fighter suffers a life-threatening brain injury.
In a statement, state Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said the new rules represent a "new chapter in our rich history as a mecca for combat athletes."
“These regulations will protect the health and safety of combat athletes in New York State, and enhance the experience of combative sports for fans and competitors alike," said Rosado, whose agency oversees the Athletic Commission.
New York first banned professional mixed martial arts in 1997 under then-Gov. George Pataki at a time when the UFC had a reputation for no-holds-barred fighting with few rules or restrictions.
The state Legislature approved a bill in March lifting the ban after a nearly decade-long lobbying effort by the UFC, making New York the 50th state to allow MMA fights. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill in April.
The state will also levy an 8.5 percent tax on ticket sales, as well as a 3.5 percent tax — up to $50,000 — on broadcast rights. Competitors, promoters and judges will also be required to purchase a license or permit from the state.
The UFC, mixed martial arts largest promoter, wasted little time applying for a license, filing paperwork with the Athletic Commission Thursday morning. The promoter already has two major events scheduled in New York: UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Nov. 12, and a Fight Night card in Albany on Dec. 9.
Michael Britt, a UFC vice president, said Thursday was a "historic day for UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts."
"As we move into 2017, we look forward to major events across the state from New York City to Buffalo," Britt said
The rules approved Wednesday apply to both professional and amateur bouts, which were previously unregulated in the state. They apply not only to mixed martial arts but boxing and professional wrestling, as well.
Boxing promoters filed objections with the state Athletic Commission, arguing that the $1 million insurance policy for traumatic brain injuries will price many of them out of the state. They were hoping the commission would make use of a clause in the law allowing it to adjust the insurance adjustments "from time to time."
In a joint letter this week to the Department of State, White Plains-based boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing and DiBella Entertainment President Lou DiBella said the $1 million coverage requirement is unparalleled in any state.
"We do not believe the legislature and the Governor’s intent to provide economic activity by legalizing MMA in New York is served by an insurance requirement that will drive the majority of boxing promoters out of the state due to the increased cost," DeGuardia and DiBella wrote.
The Athletic Commission defended the insurance requirement, calling it the "most robust ... in the country."
In a news release, the commission said the insurance coverage is meant to protect the athletes and make sure fights "occur in a well-regulated and practicable manner within the State."
"The regulations promulgated today strike a reasonable and appropriate balance, acknowledging both the anticipated costs to promoters and the increased protections afforded in the event of injury, including life-threatening brain injury, to the participants it licenses," the commission wrote.