Local MMA fighters eying Albany

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — For the past eight years, Anthony Norton has worked toward becoming a professional mixed martial artist, but he wasn’t counting on the state of New York being his toughest opponent.

Norton is one of the nearly dozen fighters at Western New York MMA and Fitness striving to make the leap from amateur to professional.

“It’s super frustrating because we have to take time out of our lives and travel out of state just to spend money. As an amateur, we have to spend money,” Norton said.

But he has to spend money rather than make it, thanks to battle that’s been raging in Albany for the past six years.

Since 2009, the Republican-controlled Senate has approved a bill to legalize mixed martial arts in New York — the only state in the country where professional bouts are illegal.

But the Democratic-controlled Assembly, spearheaded by former speaker Sheldon Silver, could barely get the bill to the floor for a discussion.

“In the past, we’ve never had the vote of the assembly. We’re hoping that this year, with the speaker of the house being gone and relieved our new speaker is actually supportive of the bill. We need to get a vote,” said Don Lilly, manager and co-owner of WNY MMA and Fitness in north Buffalo.”We need the democratic process to take place in Albany, and hopefully have them vote for the sport.”

That would take change Lilly says is necessary.

“We need to get on board. Times have changed. The world is changing and mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world,” Lilly said. “We need to accept that and move on and let these professionals make a living here in New York.”

Those hopeful professionals say they’ll remain at a disadvantage, as long as the state of New York holds its ground

“Imagine you’re a professional writer, you have to go out of state, so you’re always the away team. Imagine any sport where you’re never the home team,” said Mike Dauenhauer, manager and co-owner of WNY MMA and Fitness. “You’re at a disadvantage. You’re walking in, you’re getting booed, everybody’s against you, your energy’s not right, your friends and family aren’t there.”

It’s not known when the Assembly would take up the bill. But in six years, it hasn’t made it to the floor for a discussion.

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