From The Desk Of Kenny Rice

A local radio station did a survey of its listeners regarding the loss of the hometown team in the NCAA Tournament. Would they continue to have interest with their team gone? A whopping 75% responded -No. Another 10% stated they might if it were convenient. And this in a state known for avid fans, but it turned out not for the overall love of hoops but specifically for their team

Passion can blur the lines of appreciation. Too much either way can dislodge logic. Emotional overflow reduces reason to an infinitesimal level.

Sports and politics are topics right next to religion that have the potential to limit rational discussions. The ‘if you’re not for me you are against me’ mentality can rarely be reckoned with civil discourse.

This leading with the heart -not- the- head has been at the core of legalizing MMA in New York State. Outlandish emotions masked the gist of why the sport was banned. It had nothing to do with the debates. They were clever misdirections fueled by fiery rhetoric of special interest groups with politico mouthpieces who secretly harbored no resentment for MMA, but rather enjoyed the comforts of knowing they had an influential backer in the next election.

Fans whipped together well intended petitions; a politician or two was sacrificed to make an outrageous claim; and a few purported journalists weighed in with their own bias that the sport is really terrific so screw everyone.

On Tuesday, finally, after years of nonsensical back and forth New York became the last state to legalize mixed martial arts. The state Assembly gave approval by a 113-25 vote. Twenty years after it went away, MMA came back to the Empire State.

It goes now to Governor Andrew Cuomo who will sign it into law. Could he veto it? Even in the stranger world of politics this won’t happen. For it was the Governor himself who essentially brought MMA back. He did so by not making it a stand alone bill that could never make it to a full vote. Instead Cuomo attached it to his budget bill. The real vote was for the budget. It is about money and that doesn’t just talk it screams in the political arena.

What at long, long last happened this week might end the insanely black and white statements made over this period about why MMA wasn’t in New York. The whole thing was gray, a dark, often dirty shade of it at that. It was simple politics 1,2 and 3.

1) The fight wasn’t against MMA but specifically against the UFC . The powerful Culinary Union consistently rallied support against the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank III primary owners of Zuffa who owns the UFC. It was a complex feud originating in Nevada and stretching across the land. To the credit of the Fertittas they kept a relative low profile throughout and the UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner was close to brilliant as he smoothed many political tides in the process, allowing Dana White to speak out from time to time as only he can.

2) The man who wielded extraordinary power for decades, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver was arrested in January 2015 on federal corruption charges, later found guilty on all. Silver routinely delayed the previous bills on MMA so they never got to a full vote. With Silver out of the way proponents thought the bill was a done deal last year. It wasn’t. However Silver’s arrest brought such attention to his anti-MMA stance, ironically it might’ve finally persuaded the governor to not let the sport try to make it as a stand alone any longer.

3) Governor Cuomo has stated several times about MMA being “an economic generator.” Sure New York has done well without MMA, certainly the UFC has held up on its own sans the Empire State. But with neighbors New Jersey and Connecticut opening their arms and filling their coffers with entertainment dollars from the sport, it only made sense not to draw out something that was overdue. Madison Square Garden is the jewel; then Barclays Center and not to be overlooked the markets of Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany-Schenectady-Saratoga. There’s a lot to offer for all, money to be made.

When the pundits vote on submission and knockout of the year; fight of the year; dissect again how Diaz beat McGregor or Tate took care of Holm and all the other perfunctory awards and reviews of 2016, there is one hands down winner.

The best, slickest move in MMA this year has already been won, and deservingly so, by Governor Andrew Cuomo. He got down to business, putting emotions aside, and making an astute political decision.

– Kenny

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