By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Associate Editor
UPPER EAST SIDE — Can steel-cage fighting save Manhattan’s economy?
A push by Upper East Side assemblyman Jonathan Bing to legalize the controversial but increasingly profitable sport of mixed martial arts in New York has garnered the crucial support of Gov. David Paterson.
Worried that other states that allow the sport are making money where New York could, state lawmakers, such as Bing, are advocating for a bill that would make mixed martial arts legal, introduce regulations and tax ticket sales for fight events.
"New York right now is sending $50 million a year to other states that they could use to pay for social services," Bing (D-Upper East Side, Midtown East) told DNAinfo.com. "It really makes no sense that we can put billboards up in Times Square to advertise an event when we can't host it down the street in Madison Square Garden.
"I'm very pleased the governor has recognized the positive economic impact the bill would cause. I hope we can get it onto the floor and have a healthy debate,” he added.
Under the proposed bill, mixed martial arts would be recognized as a legal sport, and the state could create safety regulations over it.
In exchange, New York would implement an 8.5 per cent tax on all ticket sales, and a 3 per cent tax on broadcasting rights, up to a $50,000 maximum per event, according to the bill.
That could mean $11.5 million per event for the city, Bing said.
Madison Square Garden reportedly supports the sport’s legalization.
Currently, it’s illegal to profit off mixed martial arts like Ultimate Fighting, where pumped-up competitors pummel one another into submission.
New York had allowed the sport until 1997, when then-Gov. George Pataki banned it on the grounds that it was barbaric.
But proponents say the sport has changed dramatically over the past decade, and is now highly regulated, with drug testing, a doctor in every ring and bans on unattended minors purchasing tickets.
The sport is legal in dozens of other states, including New Jersey, where the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s upcoming March 27 bout is pulling down $603 per ticket, plus a $10 service charge, for a fifth-row seat from the cage.
"I'm not a mixed martial arts fan. I don't watch every game, but I like Olympic caliber athletes and I like the revenue it would generate," Bing said.