Breaking News: UFC and Bellator Seek MMA Sanctioning Options in New York

20 Feb

      Last week, when the New York State Attorney General’s office apparently allowed for the possibility of professional mixed martial arts events in New York State – where they are currently illegal – if promoters went through certain, approved third party sanctioning organizations, there was a concern among some this could turn New York into the wild west of MMA with various promoter’s staging events under a variety of different regulating authorities. Now it seems as if the land rush to acquire approved sanctioning has begun.
      Sources say the UFC has already been in contact with the World Kickboxing Association over the possibility of sanctioning future events in New York. The WKA, which is entered in New York State’s approved list of third party sanctioning bodies under their old name of the “World Karate Association” has been the prime, and virtually the only, active sanctioning body for professional kickboxing in New York State for the past several years. The organization, which sanctions kickboxing events around the world, has also sanctioned mixed martial arts matches in other states in the past. Calls to the offices of WKA U.S. representative Brian Crenshaw and UFC vice president Marc Ratner for comment were not returned. (*February 21 Update: Reached by telephone, UFC VP Mark Ratner confirms the organization has been in touch with the WKA but said the UFC still remains very hopeful that New York State will pass legislation legalizing MMA and allowing for its direct regulation by the state athletic commission.)
      Other sources also say that Bellator has been in touch with the Professional Karate Association, another sanctioning body on the list of approved martial arts organizations. Bellator had no comment but PKA head Joe Corley said he has been contacted by mixed martial arts groups interested in having his organization sanction their events in New York though he would not say which ones.
      “We have been approached to sanction events but I can’t say who. But news will be imminent at some point,” said Corley.
      The PKA is the first organization to promote and sanction the sport of kickboxing in the United States dating back to the 1970s, when it regularly appeared on network television and was then known as “full contact karate.” But in recent years, the organization has slipped into near dormancy. Corley said they have sanctioned kickboxing matches as recently as last year but the group has never sanctioned MMA before.
      The mysterious “approved list” of martial arts organizations who hold the exclusive right to sanction and regulate martial arts events in New York State dates back to 1997 when the current law prohibiting professional MMA was enacted. The organizations were supposed to regulate all martial arts besides MMA. But how and why these particular organizations were chosen remains a mystery as most of the key figures from the athletic commission during this time, including then state athletic commissioner (and former heavyweight boxing champion) Floyd Patterson are now deceased. The list appears to have been compiled in such a haphazard manner that several of the organizations have their names listed incorrectly while others were not even aware they were on the list to begin with.
      The name “Karate International” appears on the list, though, in all likelihood, the intended group was the “Karate International Council of Kickboxing” a kickboxing organization which has since changed its name to KICK International. When contacted, KICK executive director Frank Babcock said he could not be certain his organization was the Karate International mentioned on the approved list but did confirm his group has sanctioned kickboxing events in New York in the past, though not in recent years. Babcock, whose group does sanction amateur MMA said he did not have interest in sanctioning professional MMA in New York, though if he was approached by a promoter, he would bring the offer to his board of directors.
      While the judo and taekwondo organizations who appear on the approved sanctioning body list also do not seem to have any interest in sanctioning MMA in New York, at least some of the karate organizations are open to the idea.
      The list mentions an “International Kenpo Association” which is almost certainly the International Kenpo Karate Association, a conglomeration of affiliated schools who all practice the same brand of traditional kenpo karate. Gilbert Velez, head instructor of the IKKA said his group has only sanctioned amateur events and has never sanctioned any MMA event but he would be open to considering sanctioning MMA in New York if asked.
      Russell Palanzo, director of the Worldwide Kenpo Karate Association, another karate organization which seems to appear on the list as the “World Wide Kenpo Association” also expressed ignorance of how his organization might have gotten on the list, though he too said they would be willing to sanction MMA in New York.
      While the UFC and Bellator will both presumably maintain their already high standards for regulating the sport if they come to New York, it’s not certain that other promoters – and the sanctioning bodies they might employ – would keep such high standards, especially pertaining to fighter safety.
      By opening the door to third party sanctioning bodies (and having originally compiled such a vague and ill-conceived list, then failing to keep it updated) New York State now seems to have created a free-for-all situation in terms of regulating MMA with no immediate resolution in sight if a new law is not passed regarding MMA regulation this year.

Additional reporting for this story done by Jim Genia of


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