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Connecticut has yet to sanction mixed martial arts events, but some lawmakers think it's only a matter of time before the popular sport makes its way to the XL Center in Hartford and other venues in the state.
Of the 48 states with athletic commissions, Connecticut, New York and Vermont are the only states that have not approved MMA, according to the website mmafighting.com.
MMA events have been held at Mohegan Sun Arena at the Mohegan Sun Casino because the arena is on tribal land. But the lack of access to other venues has forced many local fighters to travel throughout New England and to New Jersey to find matches. Some argue that Connecticut has been left behind in an up-and-coming business.
The General Assembly's Public Safety and Security Committee voted 24-1 in March in favor of a bill that would permit MMA events in the state. The proposed legislation stalled in the Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding.
The proposed bill would allow the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety to regulate mixed martial arts matches and require licenses. It would also allow the state to place a 5 percent tax on the receipts of any match.
"This is a weird case where we have an industry begging us to tax them. Where else have you heard of that?" said state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, a co-sponsor of the bill. "(The bill) has some momentum behind it. I think the only question is: How long do we want to hold on when everyone else in the country is regulating and making this a monitored and taxed legal sport?"
State Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security committee, acknowledged that some detractors of MMA still view the sport as barbaric. The acting commissioner of the Department of Public Safety also testified that his department does not have the required staff, expertise or financial resources to properly regulate the sport.
Supporters of MMA in the state argue that sanctioning the sport would be a way to attract fans from New York, where sanctioning MMA has become a contentious issue.
"MMA matches have grown very popular around the country. I think it's something we probably need to look at and have further discussion on," Dargan said. "It's something that's on TV a lot and you know it's a growth sport and entertainment business that's out there and still growing."