By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY A lawsuit challenging New York's ban on professional mixed-martial arts bouts can proceed, a federal judge ruled this week.
U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood ruled that the Ultimate Fighting Championship's legal challenge can move forward, but only if the world's largest mixed-martial arts promoter can prove the state's ban is unconstitutionally vague.
"(The) Court concludes that Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged an as-applied vagueness challenge to the law," Wood wrote in her court order.
The UFC first filed suit against New York in Manhattan federal court in November 2011, challenging the state's ban on a number of grounds, including a claim that it violates fighters' First Amendment right to free expression. The lead plaintiff is UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, an Ithaca resident who was born in Rochester and grew up in the Binghamton area.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office moved to dismiss the suit, claiming the UFC's claims were without merit. In her order, Wood dismissed all of the UFC's challenges except one -- that the state's ban violates the First Amendment by being overly vague and allowing amateur bouts, but not professional ones.
UFC officials cheered the ruling, which will allow the lawsuit to head to trial.
"We are pleased with the outcome of this crucial ruling," Ike Lawrence Epstein, UFC's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "The inconsistency has cost the UFC considerable time and expense, but more important it has deprived MMA's countless New York fans of the opportunity to attend and enjoy live professional and amateur MMA events in New York."
Wood's order can still be appealed by the state. There was no immediate comment from the attorney general's office.
New York first banned mixed-martial arts in 1997. Efforts to overturn the ban through the Legislature have been held up in the state Assembly, where the chamber's Democrats have kept a bill overturning the prohibition from coming to the floor for a vote.