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Manhattan State Lawmakers Link Mixed Martial Arts to Domestic Violence

By Alan Neuhauser | April 24, 2013 10:57am

NEW YORK — Lawmakers brawling over whether to allow professional mixed martial arts bouts in New York have started throwing haymakers, implying in both legislation and public comments that cage fights breed domestic violence.

"Due to the violent nature of mixed martial arts and the surprisingly high incidence of unchallenged sexism and misogyny displayed by certain fighters, commentators and other public figures associated with this sport, the prospect of legalization in New York state raises legitimate concerns about the increased exposure of our children to this new and potentially very negative influence," stated a bill introduced Friday by state Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents much of Manhattan's east side.

For the fourth straight year, the Senate passed a measure last month that would allow pro fights. In previous years, it's been defeated in the Assembly.

A concurrent bill is now moving through the Assembly. Krueger's legislation, if approved, would put an 18-month moratorium on MMA and mandate a study of how the sport affects athletes and spectators.

Three Assembly members joined Krueger at a press conference in Albany on Tuesday, along with domestic violence victims and awareness groups and women's rights organizations, who all called on the Assembly to block professional MMA fights from being held in the Empire State.

The groups cited growing research that points toward long-term brain injuries caused by repeated blows to the head, plus some of the bloody spectacle inherently associated with MMA bouts — familiar arguments used in years past.

But in this latest round, those opposed to MMA made the fight more personal.

“Our elected leaders should not condone the negative attitudes and beliefs about violence against women that are glorified in professional human cage fighting," Connie Neal, executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in a statement.

She did not return calls and emails seeking elaboration on her comments.

The advocates pointed to social media posts by fighters and a TV commentator for Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest MMA promoter and the group leading the charge to bring the sport to New York.

Last year, in a video that attracted hails of protest titled "How to Pick Up a Gurl — Fast, (graphic language)" UFC fighter Quinton Jackson starred in an online video in which he pretended to attempt to chloroform and rape a woman in a parking garage.

Meanwhile, as recently as April 3, UFC commentator Joe Rogan wrote on Twitter, "I view women that don't like children the same way I view dogs that like to eat their own s--t."

Other posts from Rogan criticize "white knights coming to the defense of women who hate kids" and declare, "If you're a man and call yourself a feminist I hope you choke to death on vegan pizza while crying over a lady gaga song."

The opponents said the comments were representative of a widespread culture.

New York MMA trainers, fighters and fans, meanwhile, took umbrage at the accusation.

"As a professional, as a father, as a husband, as a good person, I'm very offended by this," said MMA athlete Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, who owns Vitor Shaolin Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gym in Midtown. "It's like they don't think this happens with lawyers or doctors."

Max McGarr, program manager at Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and MMA Academy on 30th Street, strongly agreed.

"I don't think domestic violence has anything to do with sports at all," he said. "You have people who don't play sports at all, they beat their wives. I fight myself, I've never hit a girl."

Roger Canaff, president of End Violence Against Women International, which attended Tuesday's press conference, acknowledged that "there has not been any research that's been done to establish a link between mixed martial arts and domestic violence."

Still, his organization supports Krueger's moratorium bill because "you have to look at the link between exposure to violence and committing violence," he said.

"The conduct of MMA stars has certainly been disturbing," Canaff said.

UFC did not return emails for comment and an attempt to reach Rogan was not immediately successful.

"No state that aspires to be the 'progressive capital of the nation,' as Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo asserted in his recent State of the State speech, should lower itself by embracing an industry dominated by a company that tolerates joking about sexual violence," the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence wrote last month in a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has opposed allowing professional MMA fights in New York.

Jen Sung, program director at Vitor Shaolin, maintained that the Twitter posts are simply from a "very few bad apples" who hardly represent mixed martial arts enthusiasts, let alone show any connection between the sport and domestic violence.

"I don't think you can link the two," she said. "Boxing's not being connected to somebody going to beat their wife."

Larissa Liberato, a Chelsea art director who recently joined Renzo Gracie, offered a similar view.

"There's good and bad people everywhere," she said. "But I think most of the guys who do this are brave, not cowards, and only cowards put their hands on women.

"The main thing we're taught here is to respect your partner — I don't think this would lead anyone to hurt women. If anything, you learn about the damage that can be done.

"If they're going to go after MMA, they've got to go after boxing, football, hockey — any sport except golf."