Sunday, November 28, 2021

UFC Lawsuit Against New York State Explained In-Depth

Earlier today, we told you about how the UFC is suining New York State in another attempt to overturn the law banning professional mixed martial arts. As noted earlier, there are various loopholes in the law, which was badly written to the point that it allows unregulated amateur MMA. It could also easily be interpreted to allow professional MMA sanctioned by the World Kickboxing Association. With that out of the way, I got my hands on the complain that the UFC filed, so let’s take a look at the case being made.

The defendants in the case are State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (for enforcing the law that UFC argues is rendered effectively toothless) as well as Vincent G. Bradley and Kevin Kim of the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA, who are blocking venues from serving alcohol at pro MMA events).  The introduction states that:

This lawsuit is a constitutional challenge to N.Y. Unconsol. Law § 8905-a (the “Combative Sport Law”, “CSL”, or simply “§8905-a”), a criminal law that is so badly written that neither ordinary persons nor state officials are able to say with any certainty what it permits and what it prohibits. As a consequence, state officials have, over the course of the law’s history, engaged in a series of arbitrary and discriminatory interpretations of the law, making clear beyond peradventure that the discretion they possess under the CSL is wholly standardless.

After setting the table with background information about the UFC, the introduction starts to get to the heart of the issue. UFC is arguing that the law “has proven to be putty in the hands of state officials” with “the official interpretation of the CSL” changing depending on who was in power. This is where it starts to get really interesting:

To pick just one example, the Combative Sport Law exempts “martial arts” from its ban, and says that “martial arts shall include any professional match or exhibition sanctioned by any” of the organizations listed in the statute. Among those organizations is the World Karate Association, today known as the World Kickboxing Association (“WKA”). State officials recognize the WKA as an organization entitled to sanction professional martial arts events, and the WKA does indeed sanction many such events in New York. But state officials will not allow the WKA to sanction professional MMA.

While barring the WKA from sanctioning professional MMA, state officials have allowed the WKA to sanction other major martial arts events in New York promoted by the UFC’s competitors, such as Glory and K-1. State officials are unable to offer any coherent explanation for why the UFC’s competitors may promote their events, including in such leading New York arenas as Madison Square Garden (“MSG”), but the UFC may not.

As the UFC then outlines, one of the state’s arguments has been that the law allows the WKA to sanction “single discipline” martial arts competitions, not “mixed discipline.” That’s in spite of Glory billing itself as “mix of several combat disciplines including Karate, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do and traditional Boxing” and K-1 describing itself as  “a combat sport that combines the most effective stand-up fighting strategies from bare knuckle Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, Taekwon-do, Savate, San Shou/San Da, Western Kickboxing, and traditional boxing.”

Yes, we all know it as modern rules, Dutch and Japanese-inspired kickboxing, but both have used the popularity of MMA to brand themselves as a form of “mixed martials arts” in the past. With this in mind, the UFC is arguing that “[f]or all of these reasons and as set forth more fully below, the CSL is unconstitutionally vague with regard to professional MMA and, therefore, violates the UFC’s rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In the complaint, the UFC reveals that they’re a licensed WKA promoter and  “has a contract with MSG to hold a live, professional MMA event on April 23, 2016, and an agreement with the WKA to sanction that event.” In spite of this, the state has taken the position that the card “is barred by the CSL—even though Defendants cannot explain why.” In explaining the importance of running an event at Madison Square Garden, not only is the obvious cited in terms of how UFC would lose out if it was cancelled, but the venue’s historical significance in both boxing and popular culture is discussed.

This all goes back to the UFC’s previous lawsuit against the state, where a judge ruled that they lacked standing because they had never tried to run in the state with the state intervening and cancelling the event. This is obviously a step towards presenting a stronger case. While the WKA’s involvement may seem questionable, they do regulate MMA n some states with smaller commissions that farm the work out.

After explaining the history behind the original regulation (yes, pro MMA was legal and regulated for a short period in ’96-’97) and ban, the UFC then outlines how “MMA Today Is Not What the New York Legislature Banned in 1997.” Regulation, the Unified Rules of MMA, and so on. They state that “The Unified Rules address the very issues identified by the New York Legislature as troubling about the early years of ‘extreme’ or ‘ultimate’ fighting,” including the implementation of weight classes and rules that ban the techniques that upset lawmakers.

The complaint then proceeds to break down the vagueness of the law. which doesn’t actually stipulate what the exempt sanctioning bodies are allowed to sanction. Instead, “any professional match or exhibition sanctioned by” the listed groups (including the WKA, then as the World Karate Association) is legal. State officials have given conflicting explanations of just what “any” includes. In spite of claims that it refers to “single discipline” competitions, the phrase does not appear in the law.

It’s argued that “[i]n the real world, the idea of a “single discipline” martial art is meaningless,” especially since NY allows arts, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, San Da, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and Kenpo all combine multiple arts. In this section, UFC takes the odd position that Glory is a new art or sport created in 2012 when it’s the same Japanese/Dutch influenced kickboxing ruleset around for decades. The WKA has sanctiong these and other sports/arts in NY. The complaint goes on to explain how the law doesn’t explain what martial arts competitions can take place without sanctioning r what the athletic commission’s role is.

The complaint is really well-written and researched as a whole and it’ll be fascinating to see how this case goes.

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