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Queens lawmakers fighting for mixed-martial arts bill

Urijah Faber (top) and Ivan Menjivar fight during a mixed martial arts match in California, where the sport is legal. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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The Queens state Assembly delegation is set to weigh in on a mixed-martial arts bill that passed the state Senate last week, although three of the borough’s lawmakers have already co-sponsored similar legislation in the past.

Mixed-martial arts is typically a bout between two contenders involving punches, kicks and all manner of wrestling or submission moves performed with little padding or protection. It is currently legal in most states, but not in New York.

Legislation that would overturn a 1997 ban was passed in the Senate March 6, with Queens pols largely on board. Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) were co-sponsors of the bill. Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica) was the lone dissenting voice from Queens.

Proponents argue that New York is losing out on tens of millions in annual revenue as nearby states like New Jersey host big-ticket events that generate income for the area.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he was not morally opposed to allowing the sport in the state, provided it makes economic sense. He invited the leagues promoting mixed martial arts to make their case.

The state Assembly has traditionally been a sticking point, but according to Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), this year might be different.

“I think this is an issue that is about revenue,” he said. “And we are looking about how the sport can generate that revenue, and how it is regulated.”

Mixed martial arts has grown to become more regulated than boxing, according to Moya, and its fighters receive less injuries than boxers.

“I think the opposition was over what they considered the brutality of the sport,” he said. “But it has changed dramatically.”

Previous bills attempting to allow mixed-martial arts have died on numerous occasions, but they did not go down without support from Moya and other Queens lawmakers.

Assembly members Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) also co-sponsored a bill in 2011.

Hevesi and Moya have each received $500 in campaign contributions from Zuffa LLC, the political action committee that spends money on behalf of the sport, according to the state Board of Elections. Though Moya said that he had signed onto the last bill about a year before receiving any campaign donations, and advocated for legalizing the sport as part of his platform for first getting elected in 2011. Hevesi also signed on the same bill, also about a year before receiving the contribution.

Zuffa also gave $15,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which is headed by Gianaris.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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