Sen. Reid ready to go to the mat for MMA

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lost his skepticism of mixed martial arts when he saw everything that the sport and the UFC have done for Nevada.

He thinks New York lawmakers will have a similar experience if they allow it into their state.

The Democratic senator plans to put his influence behind MMA's quest to become a sanctioned sport in New York, a lengthy process that has become one of the UFC's fondest wishes. Only a handful of states haven't sanctioned and regulated the growing sport.

"I'm going to see what I can do to help in New York," Reid said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm aware of the issue, and I know a few people in New York. I'm going to see if I can talk a little sense to them. ... I think what they should do is approve the concept and have some great fight cards. It would be great for the state of New York."

Reid, facing a stiff challenge from Sharron Angle in his run for a fifth term this fall, knows any help in New York likely will have to wait until next year. The New York state senate approved a bill legalizing MMA last month, but the state assembly wrapped up last week without voting on it.

Although lawmakers across the country have long worried about the sport's violence, Reid can assure anybody who asks that there's nothing in MMA they haven't seen in sports already regulated by their states.

"These, to me, are a fair street fight, and I've been around a few of those in my day," Reid said. "They have 31 different rules. That's a fair street fight. I'm quite impressed. ... They're extremely well conditioned, and there's somebody watching every move they make. Of course people get hurt, but you get hurt playing basketball or football or baseball. I've just enjoyed this so much, and it's so good for Nevada. That's why I love this."

Reid attended his second UFC show last weekend in Las Vegas. The former boxer, who once judged a fight that Sugar Ray Robinson lost, thought MMA was a fad before brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta brothers bought the promotion and built it into a multimillion-dollar corporation with president Dana White, who sat next to Reid at UFC 116.

Count Reid among those who consider the UFC to be Las Vegas' pro sports franchise. He was a longtime friend of the late Frank Fertitta Jr., the Station Casinos founder and father of the UFC's owners, who based their company in their native Las Vegas. Although the UFC puts on shows all over the world, the promotion hosts several cards each year in their hometown.

An economic impact study commissioned by the UFC's parent company last year claimed the league generated over $85 million in nongaming revenue for six events held in Las Vegas between February 2008 and January 2009. Even the sport's detractors can't dispute its role as an economic boon to Nevada.

"It's been so terrific for our community, especially in these down economic times," Reid said. "These fights fill hotel rooms and buy dinners, and people gamble a little bit, so from that perspective, it's really wonderful."

Although he has been interested in boxing since his days at Basic High School in Henderson, Nev., he hasn't always felt warmly about MMA or its outlaw reputation. He compares his initial impressions of MMA to the uncertainty he felt several decades ago when his son, Leif, told his parents he wanted to play an exotic and unfamiliar sport: soccer.

"I thought, 'What is this kid, a sissy?"' Reid said with a laugh. "I didn't say that to him, but now I'm an avid soccer fan.

"I felt the same way about these fights the way I felt about soccer," he added. "I didn't want anything to do with these fights. I couldn't imagine that this would be anything but a passing fad. And then I watched it, and having the Fertittas involved, and having Las Vegas the center of these attractions, I started focusing on them. Now, for someone who loves athletics, you couldn't enjoy an evening more."