Hartford - Mixed martial arts matches will remain illegal after a bill that would have legitimized the combat sport in the state died Wednesday on the last day of the legislative session.
Connecticut will remain one of two states in the nation with athletic commissions that have yet to legalize mixed martial arts matches. Such matches are permitted on sovereign land at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, but not in venues such as Hartford's XL Center.
Bill proponents argued that allowing MMA matches would boost the state's economy and tap into a sport with growing popularity worldwide.
Opponents have called the sport barbaric, and often invoked U.S. Sen. John McCain's remark that MMA is "human cockfighting."
"This is the first time it's been before either chamber for a vote," Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. "I think we want to take a careful look at it before we just simply approve it."
Williams told reporters he and state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, opted not to bring the bill out for a vote. Marc Ratner, the vice president of government and regulatory affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest mixed martial arts promotions company, placed sole responsibility for the bill's defeat on this decision.
Ratner said he believed there were enough votes in the Senate for the law to pass. It did not come up for a vote in either chamber.
There is also a union component in the camp opposing the bill. The UFC has two co-owners who also own Station Casinos in Las Vegas. The gaming group owns 17 casinos and has been accused of unfair labor practices by a Nevada-based culinary union.
Lori Pelletier, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, said Wednesday that 87 cases of unfair labor practices have been filed, and most complaints claim women and minorities have been the targets. That was one reason why Pelletier said the union argued against legalizing MMA in the state.
Ratner said the union grievances created a roadblock for the MMA bill. New York, another state with an athletic commission that does not sanction MMA matches, has a similar issue, he said.
"Out of loyalty to their brethren, they have lobbied very hard to keep MMA out of New York and Connecticut," he said.
Williams acknowledged the union issue, but said he and Looney have safety concerns. He recalled how he pulled out his smart phone during a recent meeting with MMA advocates and discovered many violent fight videos online.
Without legalization, MMA fighters, such as Nick Newell, will continue to travel to other states to fight. Newell, 26, from Fairfield County, was born without a left forearm or hand, but still fights professionally under the nickname "Notorious."
"I'd love to be able to fight and compete in my home state," he said.
Day Staff Writer JC Reindl contributed to this report.