Supporters of legalized professional mixed martial arts in New York State say the controversial yet popular sport will generate millions of dollars in economic activity, while making the sport safer in a state where it's already been hosted on a strictly amateur - and unregulated - basis.
The New York State Assembly, after rejecting legalized MMA for the past seven years, voted this week to legalize it. The Senate has voted to approve pro MMA in New York State for years.
"The economic impact of mixed martial arts across the state is to the tune of over 200 million dollars," said State Senator and MMA proponent Tim Kennedy. "We're going to see millions of dollars of that right in our community, in Buffalo. I'm looking forward to the first bout."
Amateur mixed martial arts promotions have been run in New York State for years. They've been unregulated. By legalizing pro MMA in New York, the State Athletic Commission will get involved and regulate the sport.
At least one local gym owner expressed cautious optimism about the forthcoming arrival of pro MMA. Michael Dauenhauer, owner of Western New York Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in Buffalo, admitted his concerns for how state regulations will affect the cost of doing business.
"It's good and bad," Dauenhauer said. "We're already established. We're a big gym. We could probably handle it, and it'll probably get rid of some of the knucklehead gyms around that are not doing things the right way.
"At the same time, if my cost of business goes up, it changes all the economics of my business. It'll be interesting to see."
Dauenhauer noted that a wide majority of his clients work out at the gym for the purpose of exercise, and do not seek to compete in MMA.
In his budget proposal, still being negotiated in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo calls for legal pro MMA in New York State. During his visit to Western New York on Tuesday, Cuomo restated his support while acknowledging the strong opposition by some.
"Some people believe it's violent - and by the way, it's violent - but football is violent. Boxing is violent," said Cuomo to reporters in Niagara Falls. "I do support mixed martial arts because it's also an economic generator."
Among the concerns of opponents is the health risks to combatants, especially in light of new information learned in recent years about concussions and their long-term effects.
Pro MMA bouts are expected to take place in New York State by the end of this year.