Hugh McQuaid Photo
Despite opposition from the chamber’s majority leadership, the Senate acted on the final day of session to legalize and regulate the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in Connecticut

Connecticut is one of two states which currently does not allow Mixed Martial Arts, a popular but violent sport combining elements of wrestling, boxing, and karate. MMA matches already take place at the state’s two tribal casinos and proponents have argued that the sport could attract large crowds to matches at venues in Hartford and Bridgeport.

In early May, the House approved the legislation with the support of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey. But passage through the Senate, where both Sen. President Donald Williams and Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney oppose it, seemed unlikely. The Senate let a similar bill die on its calendar last year.

But Senate leaders allowed the bill to come for a vote Wednesday when it passed 26-9, with both Williams and Looney voting against it.

In addition to legalizing the sport, the bill requires that MMA officials be licensed through the state and prohibits anyone from fighting in a match without first being certified as physically fit by a doctor.

The legislation was a priority this year for freshman Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport. Bridgeport’s Webster Arena could see an economic benefit from hosting the fights.

“The fact of the matter is that on evenings when the Webster Arena is dark, our downtown area is dark as well. We don’t have a downtown that’s vibrant . . . Having MMA here in the state of Connecticut and coming to the Webster Arena or the XL Arena, it brings people in,” he said.

Opponents of the bill objected to the sport, saying it encourages a culture of violence. Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the sport sent the wrong message to children and was not the right way to grow the state’s economy. She said she would have cast 30 votes against the bill if she could.

“I’m here to say that, as a state, Connecticut is better than this,” she said. “In Connecticut we can have arts and ideas festivals. Let’s have more festivals . . . and not say ‘Things are so bad in this city that we have to put men or women in a cage and have them punch each other in the face and kick each other.’ That’s not economic development to me.”

Several senators who voted for the bill said they understood the objections to the sport’s violence, but many pointed out that it is already practiced in Connecticut and said residents who find it offensive are not forced to watch it.

“It’s a gruesome, barbaric sport that should be back in the Roman times, with the Roman Coliseum,” Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “. . . That being said, I also believe you have a right to turn off your TV and you have right not to go to events.”

Although opponents said the bill conflicted with efforts this legislative session to reduce society’s “culture of violence” after the Newtown murders, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, he did not believe allowing the sport would make Connecticut residents more violent.

“I actually don’t believe the fundamental premise that if you observe violent things you become a violent person,” Kissel said, adding that he has played violent video games without becoming violent.

The bill will now head to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk for his consideration.

Connect with Hugh: