As beads of sweat worked their way down Constantine Gemelas’s face, he powered through the last few seconds of his sparring exercise, swinging up until the bell sounds. The 25-year-old Port Jefferson native is working to become a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter, a dream that may be closer to reality than he previously thought. On March 23, New York became the last state to legalize professional MMA fighting.
“People don’t realize Long Island is like a hotbed right now for MMA,” Gemelas said, noting that plenty of professional fighters would sell more tickets with hometown fights than big arenas across state lines.
Although MMA is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, it is prominent among college students nonetheless. College fighters that train individually, like Matt Migliore, a Stony Brook junior business major, are excited about the legalization of the sport in New York.
“It’s definitely conducive for the growth of the sport as it becomes more mainstream,” Migliore said. “New York has a great supply of amateur fighters and has some of the most successful pools of wrestling talent in the country on Long Island.”
The legalization of MMA would not only allow for professional fighting events to be held in New York but also regulation of the sport. For local Long Island fighters, legalizing MMA could give them a much needed foot in the door, but for arenas and promoters like Nic Canobbio, legalization can also bring a lot of questions.
“There are a lot of things that are up in the air [that determine] whether it will be feasible to put on pro events,” Canobbio said, adding that additional costs for professional fights, such as fighter insurance and taxes, which can vary from state to state, must be taken into account. In New York, a provision was added to the legalization bill setting accident insurance prices at $50,000 for injury and $1,000,000 for life-threatening brain injuries, hefty costs for small venues.
Connor Murphy, a staff member at Longo-Weidman MMA in Garden City, said that legalizing MMA will bring out the local aspect of the sport.
“They have always had to travel outside of the state in order to compete,” Murphy said. “We look forward to our guys and girls getting the opportunity to show what they work so hard on day in and day out to their family and friends who live in the area.”
With the legalization of MMA comes regulations of the sport for the health and safety of the fighters. Nic Canobbio, a promoter at KTFO Fights on Long Island, mentioned the good intentions behind the state regulations, saying, “They’re trying to make it safer in the aspect of protecting the fighters in the event of an injury.”
Regulations don’t seem to bother fighter Gemelas.
“Fighting is fighting,” Gemelas said. “If me and the guy across from me have the same regulations we should really be on even playing ground no matter what; I’m there to win no matter where I am.”
Local venues are not the only ones preparing for their first professional fights. Major arenas like Madison Square Garden, the storied arena in downtown Manhattan, also are anticipating their first fights.
“The biggest events from sports and entertainment all come to Madison Square Garden, which will now have the opportunity to host the first ever UFC event fight by year’s end helping to create an iconic moment in New York history,” the arena said in a news statement.
The UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the premier MMA promotion company in the world. The UFC announced on April 14 that it would premier professional fighting at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12.