First Amendment

UFC in Legal Battle with State of New York

The following article was written by Spencer Wingate.

The increasing popularity and growth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has not spread to New York State Legislature. The government believes their ban of mixed martial arts in 1997 is still valid. The ruling stipulated that fighting matches with kicks, punches, or blows to the opponent were prohibited. Wrestling, boxing, and sparring were exempt from the decision. Martial arts were the primary focus due to their brutal nature. For years Zuffa LLC (majority owner of the UFC) has been trying to lift the ban. After their attempts continued to be unsuccessful; they resorted to suing. New York District Attorney Vance has responded by filing a memorandum for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

Zuffa’s stance is the sport has been drastically changed since 1997.  Since they took control of UFC in 2001, significant changes have been implemented. They have worked with state athletic commissions and completely redesigned safety rules. It is now a sport that provides entertainment, not just violence.  Zuffa’s suit states banning the UFC is unconstitutional. The fighters have a right to express themselves through the sport. Otherwise, their civil rights are being infringed. The suit references the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment to contend the organization is unlawfully being discriminated against. They contend their rights are being deprived without due process of law. The suit mentions studies that show the UFC is no longer more dangerous than any other sport. Outlawing the UFC, but allowing similar forms of MMA, is irrational.

In his memorandum to the court, District Attorney Vance states it does not matter if the court’s ruling is no longer rational. At the time of the ruling, it was completely valid. The ban was supported by medical testimonies and studies. Opening every previous ruling to judicial review is a slippery slope. Doing so will only open the court to self-criticism and trouble. It is the democratic branch of the government’s responsibility; not judicial activism to examine if previous rulings are outdated.

The argument brings into question the issue of what exactly is protected by the first amendment. Is fighting a form of freedom of speech? Does it depend on the type of competition? New York’s memorandum portrays the view it does not matter. It is not their responsibility to adapt previous rulings to historical developments. The UFC just wants access to the New York market to further increase their revenue stream.

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