ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Former mixed martial arts champion Chris Weidman wants his title back and wants to fight in New York, where the sport is banned.
Surrounded by lawmakers Tuesday, the Long Island native said he'd like to fight in Madison Square Garden, a short train ride away for hometown fans and for fellow fighters who train at his Garden City gym.
"I want to congratulate everybody for being here because it's probably a historic event. It's going to be the last time that we come here to lobby for MMA," Weidman said to reporters and legislators at the Capitol in Albany. "The next time we'll be actually fighting here."
Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo said the Senate will vote to legalize the sport this year for the seventh time and will put it in its budget proposal. "We're preventing people in the state of New York from being able to spectate or participate, and I think that's wrong," he said.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Democrat, said they're getting "very close" to having enough Assembly votes to pass legislation to regulate the sport. They had a majority of sponsors at the end of last year, but there was a logistical issue with some members away from the Capitol, he said.
"My goal is to make sure this is done, regulated and enacted," Morelle said. If they get enough sponsors and the Assembly Democratic Conference backs it, the bill could pass quickly, he said.
Assembly critics blocked the bill in the past, saying the mix of boxing, wrestling, kick boxing and jiu-jitsu is too violent. They initially included Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, replaced as leader last year after he was indicted on corruption charges.
Amateur MMA fighters train and even compete in New York. Morelle's legislation would place all combat sports under the jurisdiction of the New York State Athletic Commission that now regulates pro boxing or other authorized sanctioning entity. It would increase required insurance for fighters and authorize a group of state authorities to recommend a funding mechanism for long-term care of fighters who develop degenerative brain conditions from injuries in the ring.
Weidman, 31, a former collegiate wrestler at Hofstra, said he hasn't had a documented concussion in MMA, though he did as a wrestler. In 2013, he knocked out Anderson Silva, considered one of the best all-time mixed martial artists, to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title. In December, he lost the 185-pound title to Luke Rockhold by a bloody technical knockout in his first pro loss. He wants a rematch.
"I'm not going to sit here and say it's the fluffiest sport there is. It's a physical sport, just like football's a physical sport, just like cheerleading's a physical sport. There's always a danger you'll get hurt. But when it's properly regulated, it's as safe as any of those other physical sports go," he said.
UFC executive Lawrence Epstein said the promotion may do three to five events annually in New York, and many other promoters would come also, bringing thousands of fans and money. His company is looking at possible Madison Square Garden events in the fourth quarter of this year, which could include Weidman's title fight, he said.