By Samantha Mercado and Nikita Ramos
As beads of sweat worked their way down Constantine Gemelas’ face, he powered through the last few seconds of his Monday night sparring exercise at the East West MMA training center, swinging up until the bell rang. The 25-year-old Port Jefferson native is working to become a pro MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, a dream that may be closer to reality than he thinks. On March 23rd New York became the last state to legalize professional MMA fighting.
“People don’t realize, Long Island is like a hotbed right now for MMA,” Gemelas said, noting that plenty of pro fighters would sell more tickets with hometown fights than big arenas across state lines.
For local Long Island fighters, legalizing MMA can offer a much needed foot in the door, but for arenas and promoters like Nic Canobbio, legalization can bring a lot of questions.
“There are a lot of things that are up in the air, whether it will be feasible to put on pro events [is one of them],” Canobbio said. Additional costs for pro events must be taken into account such as fighter insurance, taxes.
The legalization of MMA would not only allow for pro fighting events to be held in New York but also allow the state to regulate the sport.
Staff member Connor Murphy at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City said that legalizing MMA will bring out the local aspect of the sport.
“They have always had to travel outside of the state in order to compete,” Murphy said. “We look forward to our guys and girls getting the opportunity to show what they work so hard on day in and day out to their family and friends who live in the area.”
Pro UFC fighter and Long Island native Chris Wade said that the legalization of MMA in New York is beneficial not only to the fighters but to the community as well.
“I think fighting is one of those sports that really can bring people together real fast,” Wade said.
As a pro fighter, Wade has used his influence to give back to a community he is very proud of. He joined the ‘Island Strong’ company about a year ago when they formed.
“We try to give back whenever we make a sale and we’re trying to help some of the businesses that are struggling a little bit,” Wade said. “It’s just a pride in where we come from. Here on the island, when it comes down to it a lot of us who are born and raised here are proud of where we come from,” He added.
While legalization could boost the Long Island fan base and strengthen community ties, there are also regulations to consider. “They’re trying to make it safer in the aspect of protecting the fighters in the event of an injury,” Promoter Nic Canobbio said.
Regulations don’t seem to bother Gemelas, “Fighting is fighting. If me and the guy across from me have the same regulations we should really be on even playing ground no matter what; I’m there to win no matter where I am,” Gemelas said.
Local venues are not the only ones preparing for their first pro fights, major arenas like Madison Square Garden are also anticipating their first fights.
“The biggest events from sports and entertainment all come to Madison Square Garden, which will now have the opportunity to host the first ever UFC event fight by year’s end helping to create an iconic moment in New York history,” Madison Square Garden representatives communicated in a press statement.