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First 'Legally Sanctioned' MMA Fights Coming to Hell's Kitchen

By Mathew Katz | May 15, 2013 6:43am
 Victory Combat Sports will bring 13 fights to Terminal 5 on Friday.
Victory Combat Sports fighters will come to Hell's Kitchen on Friday.
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HELL'S KITCHEN — Despite a statewide ban on mixed-martial arts, a pair of promoters plans to bring what they claim is New York's first legally sanctioned MMA fight to Hell's Kitchen on Friday.

Victory Combat Sports, a martial arts company founded by Kevin Lillis and Justin Blair, will bring 26 fighters to Terminal 5 on Friday for "Victory in NYC," a 13-fight showdown.

Lillis said the tournament is legal because the fighters are all technically amateurs — meaning they won't be paid — and the event is sanctioned by the World Kickboxing Association, a group that's recognized by the state.

Lillis said that amateur fights have been held in the state before, but none that were held to the standards of an organization like WKA, which include blood tests and physicals for all fighters.

"WKA has to answer to the state," he said.

"It means [the fighters] have to go through very significant medicals. If they don't get their medicals out, they aren't fighting."

Professional MMA fights were banned in the state in 1997 and, while the state Senate has voted repeatedly to legalize the sport, the legislation has failed to pass the Assembly.

Opponents of the sport in Albany argue that it leads to long-term injuries and even domestic violence.

"I think it's outrageous that they're brazenly flouting the law with this loophole," said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, an opponent of professional MMA fighting whose district includes Terminal 5.

"This is a violation of the spirit of the law, if not the letter. I'm not sure how firm the ground is on which they're sparring."

Hoylman said he planned to contact the New York State Athletic Commission to clarify the issue.

Laz Benitez, spokesman for the commission, said that it could not regulate MMA events under current boxing laws, but added that hosting one was still risky.

"While the statute does not expressly ban amateur mixed-martial arts matches or exhibitions, the commission has previously stated that unregulated combative competitions pose a dramatic and heightened risk to the health and safety of participants," Benitez said in a statement. 

"Such activities may also violate provisions of the Penal Law, such as disorderly conduct, criminal nuisance, reckless endangerment or assault."

Lillis, however, said that the amateur fights provided a venue for wannabe warriors to prove their mettle on the road to professional sparring.

"These guys, they've been training for months and years, they want to become professional," he said.

"This is kind of like baby teeth — even if they lose a couple of times, it's fine."

Lillis said that opponents of the sport often have preconceived notions about both MMA and the fighters themselves. Most of the amateurs fighting on Friday have both college degrees and full-time jobs, he said.

But by requiring strict medical tests and getting sanctioned by the World Kickboxing Association, Lillis argued that the bouts on Friday would be safe.

"We're going through stricter guidelines than a lot of other states do with professional matches," he said.

Victory in NYC kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 17 at Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St. Tickets are $45 to $100 and are available online.