On Tuesday night the City Council of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, repealed its decade-old ban on mixed martial arts, joining most of the civilized world in admitting that MMA is probably not going to destroy society. When I say "most of the civilized world," I'm excluding New York, of course, which has managed to turn itself from the center of the world into a cultural backwater and a reactionary laughingstock by refusing, over and over again, to legalize a sport that every other state in the union, most reasonable countries in the world, and now the tiny town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have, like adults, come to terms with.
The Sioux Falls ordinance, written by Council Member Christine Erickson, lifts a 2005 ban on "ultimate fighting" shows at publicly owned venues or parks in the city, including the 13,000-seat Denny Sanford Premier Center, the city's biggest arena. That law was passed during MMA's far more chaotic days, when fear was rampant and regulation was rare, especially in smaller markets. But now South Dakota has an athletic commission and MMA stars are in the movies, so the nine members of the Council decided that the time had come at last for their city to step out of the dark ages and into the second decade of the 20th century.
"Back in 2005 there were a lot of bad actors in that industry," Erickson said after the vote. "This sport has come a long way from what it was. Gone are the days where two people would be in the back parking lot of a bar."
How right she is! Only in New York are mixed martial artists still forced to skulk around like criminals and fight in bar parking lots.
What in the world is going on here?! How is it that New York City is getting schooled in rational thinking and cultural sophistication by Sioux Falls? As an MMA fan I'm flummoxed by New York's ban on MMA, but as a resident of New York City I'm terrified by it. What other superstitions and unfounded fears are motivating my elected representatives? Can't they see that a little flyover town like Sioux Falls is passing us—us: the greatest city in the world—in the race toward enlightenment? We New Yorkers might as well be debating about Darwin or vaccines or gravity. That's how far off the grid the fight over MMA has taken us. We're being made to look like fools by Ottumwa and Pigeon Forge and Montpelier.
And now Sioux Falls! A city that was sacked by Native Americans only six years after being founded and had to be founded all over again. 19th-century America's "divorce capital." Home of the Festival of Bands high school marching band competition and an outdoor replica of Michelangelo's David. Sioux Falls! "Best Little City in America." "Queen City of the West." "The Heart of America." For five straight years Allstate Insurance's "Safest Driving City" and home to the champions of the Indoor Football League.
Sioux Falls! Population: 168,586. There are 110,000 people in Flatbush, for christ's sake! 137,000 people live on the Upper West Side!
And yet, how reasonable the leaders of Sioux Falls are. How thoughtful and rational. How measured and responsible. And how ridiculous they're making our leaders look—here at the center of the world.
So, the UFC and Bellator and other major promoters are finally free to bring events to Sioux Falls, and the fans and fighter and coffers of the city are finally free to reap the rewards. All because the wise and reasonable members of the City Council had eyes to see that which the seemingly wise state legislators of the otherwise reasonable Democratic Party in the reportedly enlightened state of New York continue to be blind to: that mixed martial arts is not a sign of the end of days. Old-timey fight fans, New York City mythologists, and other reactionaries will howl of course that the Premier Center (barely one year old and home mainly to country music concerts and minor-league hockey matches) has nothing on the mythic grandeur of Madison Square Garden, the one-time but now-long-dead Fight Capital of the World. But I'm starting to believe that actually New York City has nothing on Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or Meridian, Mississippi, or Ogden, Utah. At least those cities can see the future. New York has gone blind.