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New York State Assembly legalizes professional mixed martial arts

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s Assembly voted 113-25 Tuesday to legalize mixed martial arts, clearing the way for fights late this year and expanding the combat sport into the last state to still prohibit it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports legalizing the combination of wrestling, kickboxing and judo. The state Senate has already passed the identical measure.

Critics call MMA too violent and like football and boxing prone to causing concussions and head injuries. Some said it inspires domestic violence and invites children to imitate it.

“This is barbaric and it should be banned,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat. “It goes too far for your entertainment.”

Provisions were added to reduce opposition, including raising the insurance required for fighter injuries to $50,000 and to $1 million for life-threatening brain injuries. It requires insurance of $50,000 for the estate of an athlete fatally injured.

Advocates say it has evolved from rougher early days with more rules to protect fighters, who are trained professionals. Meanwhile, it’s on television, and fighters train and amateurs already compete in New York in unregulated bouts.

Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, the lead sponsor, said the law will authorize the state to oversee the amateur bouts as well. “What we seek to do is essentially take the sport out of the shadows in New York,” he said.

Conducted inside a cage or other enclosure with a referee present, MMA fights end when one fighter quits or gets knocked out or when judges decide after 15 or 25 minutes of fighting who the winner is.

The Assembly left the ban intact for years over fears that the sport was too violent. A Democrat-controlled chamber approved MMA in 2007, then subsequently balked. The Republican-controlled Senate, initially reluctant, has voted to legalize it for seven straight years.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat who chairs the tourism committee, said she initially opposed MMA after running into a group of destitute ex-boxers. Added protections for fighters have made it “palatable, at least to me at this point in time,” she said, though said later she still has reservations.

The committee voted 15-5 for it.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat, noted those changes but voted against it, citing its violence and growing evidence of serious brain injuries and concussions in football and boxing.

“In football, concussions can be incidental to the game. Here, it is more part of the sport,” she said.

One early opponent was UNITE HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, publicly citing American Medical Association opposition and the potential social costs of teens imitating fighters. One consistent advocate is Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s largest U.S. promoter, whose backers are major owners of nonunion Station Casinos in Las Vegas.

UFC has its eyes on hosting a major fight card late this year at Madison Square Garden and predicts there will be other professional shows next year in Brooklyn, Buffalo and smaller cities.

“I do support mixed martial arts because it’s also an economic generator,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Tuesday in Niagara Falls. The state would collect 3 percent of gross receipts broadcast rights, not to exceed $50,000, and 8.5 percent from gross ticket receipts, as well as licensing fees.

Fighters wear small, fingerless gloves and little else. They punch, kick, elbow, grapple, knee, trip, tackle, slam and choke each other inside a cage.

The legislation puts MMA under the control of the State Athletic Commission, which regulates professional boxing with drug testing, officials and ringside doctors. It would have to prepare to do the same for MMA. The legislation, once signed by Cuomo, would take effect in 120 days, giving the commission time to issue rules and set up staffing.

The measure authorizes the state to study potential funding mechanisms for long-term care of fighters who develop degenerative brain conditions.

New York’s longstanding insurance minimums have been $7,500 for pro boxer and wrestler injuries and $100,000 for an athlete killed.

Whittaker Faces Romero as Betting Favorite on UFC 225 Odds

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Robert Whittaker was not 100 percent physically when he defeated Yoel Romero in their first fight 11 months ago, which is something to keep in mind when sizing up the rematch on Saturday.

With the UFC middleweight championship at stake, Whittaker is a -220 favorite on the UFC 225 odds with Romero coming back at +190 in the headlining fight on the main card, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The card, which is one of the most stacked the promotion has had in some time if all goes off according to plan (that is, everyone makes weight) takes place at United Center in Chicago.

Whittaker, despite being encumbered by a leg injury, won by unanimous decision when the two squared off in the Octagon at UFC 213 in July 2017. The Australian fighter has not fought since then. At his peak, Whittaker is a well-rounded fighter, combining high-volume striking – especially to opponents’ heads – with a strong takedown defense.

The main question with the 41-year-old Romero is his cardio, especially since the UFC’s recently adopted changes to weigh-ins have created extra challenges for older fighters to make weight. In their first fight he attempted half as many strikes as Whittaker but landed them at a higher rate. However, in a close fight, volume has a favorable effect on the judges’ scorecards.

Whittaker has landed at least one knockdown in six of his 12 career UFC fights, while Romero has had at least one in six of his 11 starts in UFC and Strikeforce. That suggests there is potential for a stoppage.

In the co-main event, Colby Covington (-130) is a narrow, nominal favorite against Rafael dos Anjos (+110) as they vie for the interim welterweight title. Covington is a on five-fight win streak, but the past three were by unanimous decision as he bases his strategy around takedowns and grinding opponents.

However, if Dos Anjos can tap into his Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu background and keep Covington at bay with powerful kicks, he will stand a great chance at winning and giving backers a payoff. There’s a strong likelihood the matchup goes the duration.

Holly Holm (-210) is favored against UFC debutante Megan Anderson (+180) in what amounts to a women’s featherweight title eliminator. Holm, the former bantamweight champion, is 0-2 as a featherweight. The powerful but inexperienced-with-grappling Anderson, at 6-foot tall to Holm’s 5-foot-8, will come in with a significant reach advantage and that might help her with wearing down Holm.

The generation gap is hard to ignore in the heavyweight matchup between Tai Tuivasa (-250) and Andrei Arlovski (+210). Tuivasa, age 25, has won all seven of his pro fights by knockout or TKO, but the 39-year-old Arlovski will be his toughest opponent yet. Tuivasa believers should probably expect another quick knockout, while skeptics might look at a safe play on Arlovski dragging out the fight and testing the younger artist’s staying power.

In the opener on the main card, welterweight Mike Jackson (-200) is favored against CM Punk (+170) in a matchup that is as blank a slate as it gets, due to each man’s inexperience in UFC. CM Punk comes in with a deeper grappling background than Jackson and that could set him up for the upset in a fight that is highly likely to have an early stoppage.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Nunes, Pennington carry conflicting betting trends into UFC 224

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All of Amanda Nunes’ wins in her homeland have ended early, but challenger Raquel Pennington has a history of going the distance.

Women’s bantamweight champion Nunes is a -900 favorite on the UFC 224 odds with Pennington coming back at +550, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  The card is set for Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday.

Nunes is 7-1 when she fights in Brazil, while Pennington is fighting in the country for the first time. Although Pennington has only been stopped once in 22 pro and amateur fights, Nunes’ home-soil advantage could be crucial. Nunes did require a decision during her most recent title defense against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 in September 2017.

Bettors looking for value in method-of-victory props will have to decide whether they believe Pennington can duplicate and improve on the techniques Shevchenko employed, or whether Nunes learned some lessons from that fight about being the aggressor with her powerful striking game. If the latter theory pans out, there’s a good chance of a Nunes knockout.

In the co-main event, Ronaldo (Jacaré) Souza (-135) has a three-inch reach advantage over Kevin Gastelum (+130) in a matchup of Top 5 middleweights, as well as home-soil advantage. Souza rates the edge in power and versatility, which might make him too much for Gastelum to handle, setting the table for a submission.

That said, Gastelum’s speed and accurate striking does make it tempting to back him for the win, knowing full well that it’s not the percentage play.

Up-and-coming Mackenzie Dern (-265) takes on Amanda Cooper (+225) in a grappler vs. striker matchup between two women’s strawweight competitors who are each somewhat experienced. Dern has had three of her six wins via submission, which is coincidentally how Cooper has sustained all three of her losses.

Those trends should carry over, presuming that Dern has continued to upgrade her technique in order to get the match to the ground.

John Lineker (-250) is favored against Brian Kelleher (+195) in a bantamweight bout between high-volume strikers. Six of Lineker’s last nine fights have gone to a decision and that trend could continue if he focuses on using his punching power to wear Kelleher down early and get a lead on the judges’ cards. For Kelleher, the matchup might be too big of a step up in caliber.

And Lyoto Machida (-260) is favored against Vitor Belfort (+200) in a middleweight bout between two aging Brazilian fighters, the latter of whom has said this will be his last fight. Stylistically, Machida likely has the edge due to his abilities as a counter-striker, which should enable him to weather the anticipated early onslaught from Belfort, who is 0-4 in his last four fights as the underdog. Machida’s most likely path to victory is through a decision.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.