Sen. John McCain thinks of mixed martial arts as “human cockfighting.” Former New York Gov. George Pataki once described it as “barbaric.”
But MMA lured more than 100 people this past Saturday night to a downtown Manhattan gym. They came to watch men slug it out in a secret mixed martial arts cage fight.
The rules are simple: No biting. No kicks to the groin. The fighters wear no pads, no helmets and only wrap their hands in thin, four-ounce gloves to protect against broken fingers — caused by brutal hits to the face and head. The goal is to punch and kick your opponent into submission. Yes, chokeholds are permitted.
New York is the only state in the nation where MMA fighting remains illegal. But that hasn’t stopped promoters from organizing about six underground MMA fights a year throughout the metropolitan region, according to Jim Genia, who chronicles the underground world of MMA in his book “Raw Combat.”
The fights are often held in the outer boroughs — at a boxing gym in Brooklyn, or warehouses in the Bronx and once even at a mosque.
Every year New York state legislators mull the idea of sanctioning the sport, possibly as a lucrative source of tax revenue. But many in Albany continue to dismiss MMA as too violent.
“The politicians are idiots,” said Josh James, a New Yorker who took in Saturday night’s fight. “It’s a sport. If it wasn’t, you’d just watch a couple guys go fight behind a bar.”
Fans like James defend MMA as far safer than boxing. Fighters can “tap out” if they feel defeated, as one did Saturday night, or a referee can call the fight if a fighter is badly injured.
The next fight is in December and you’re welcome to watch — if you can find out where.
Boxing, the real danger?
“When I talk to someone who’s been boxing for a long time, sometimes they can’t really talk — they’re always getting hit in the head,” said fighter Jonathan Figueroa, who won his match Saturday night. “But in MMA, I could get hit in the arm, the legs. It’s much less dangerous.”
MSG the goal
Peter Storm has been promoting underground MMA fights in New York since 2003. “Hopefully what I do gives people the courage to step up and say to Albany, “‘This should be going on at Madison Square Garden,’” Storm said Saturday. metro/cb
All photos by Emily Anne Epstein/Metro