The Senate reluctantly passed legislation Wednesday legalizing Mixed Martial Arts, but language in another bill may deter the sport’s promoters from hosting matches in Connecticut.
Connecticut is one of two states that currently does not allow Mixed Martial Arts, a popular but violent sport combining elements of wrestling, boxing, and karate. Matches already are allowed at the state’s two casinos, which are located on the tribes’ sovereign land, and proponents say the sport could attract large crowds to matches at venues in Hartford and Bridgeport.
On the last day of session the Senate took the unexpected step of passing a bill legalizing and regulating the sport despite opposition from both Sen. President Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney.
Williams said he was convinced to let the bill pass in part by the advocacy of freshman Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport. But the bill’s passage was followed by language in a larger budget implementer bill, which could discourage all but high-profile matches in Connecticut.
The language makes anyone who hires someone to fight in an MMA match liable for that person’s health care costs relating to injuries sustained during the match.
Asked if that liability would limit the prevalence of matches in Connecticut, Williams said, “It depends on how greedy the promoters are.” He said all that the language requires is that promoters earning “vast sums of money” off the matches pay for health care costs.
Last year, the Senate allowed a bill legalizing the sport to die on its calendar. In addition to concerns about violence, the bill was impeded by a labor issue originating in Nevada. Connecticut’s chapter of AFL-CIO opposed the legislation, citing unfair labor complaints against MMA promoters in Las Vegas.
“There’s a concern about some of the promoters in other states that would be looking to promote this activity in Connecticut taking an anti-union stance,” Looney said last year.
Williams said Thursday he felt that asking promoters to foot the bill for injuries sustained by participants was “the least we can ask of these folks.”
“And let’s remember: this is a sport where the ultimate goal is not about scoring touchdowns or shooting baskets or shooting goals, it’s about whaling away on another person, hitting them and kicking them repeatedly. That is what the sport is about. I think it’s reasonable to assume there will be injuries,” he said.
Williams said Ayala was aware of the requirement in the implementer bill. In a phone interview, Ayala said he knew leadership in the Senate had concerns about the health care of fighters. He said it was too soon to know whether it would deter promoters from hosting matches in Connecticut, but still saw the underlying bill as a legislative victory.
“What I do know is that prior to yesterday, these folks from MMA were not able to come here,” he said. “Once the bill gets signed, they will have the option to make that decision.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who supported legalizing mixed martial arts for its assumed economic impact, said the language was designed to be a compromise to get the bill through the Senate.
“I don’t know the degree to which that will squelch interest in bringing MMA to Connecticut. If it turns out that it is a problem, I would hope that we could revisit it and consider legislation to fix that. Because we did this for a reason and I think it’s a good reason,” he said.
The bill will still need the signature of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who on Thursday said he had not made a determination on the proposal. He did make it clear that he is not a fan of the sport.
“I don’t like the stuff but there’s a lot of things that I don’t like that are in the world. I can assure you I will not be attending an event. If I sign the legislation I will not be attending an event either at the casinos, where it’s currently allowed or any other facility. Not my bowl of porridge,” he said.