Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by David Stern and Will Uhl for Ithaca Week, an Ithaca College student publication. It is republished with permission.

ITHACA, NY – Ryan Ciotoli opened Ultimate Athletics Gym six years ago, providing an avenue for people of all ages and skill levels to become involved in mixed martial arts.

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Since then, Ciotoli and his team have expanded their operation and opened it to the general public. The company started out by professionally managing and training MMA fighters, and with the recent legalization of MMA in New York, Ultimate Athletics is gearing up for new opportunities.

On top of providing lessons and training sessions for the general public, Ultimate Athletics also acts as a promotion company for aspiring MMA fighters. Ciotoli explained that the laws in New York have provided some unique challenges to the growing MMA industry.

“In New York State it’s illegal but you can do amateur mixed martial arts, which looks very similar to the professional side and that’s something that we’re looking to get into also, doing some professional mixed martial arts,” Ciotoli said.

Until March 22, professional mixed martial arts was considered illegal in New York State but the state legislature in Albany has reversed that position. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is now imprisoned for corruption charges, was the strongest opponent to legalizing MMA in New York. After overcoming a number of hurdles, the New York State Senate was able to pass the bill allowing for legalization with a vote of 48-14.

For years, MMA fighters living in New York would have to travel out of the state or onto an Indian reservation if they hoped to get paid for competing. Now that professional MMA fighting is legal in the state, Ciotoli and his promotional company are starting to put together a team of fighters.

“We’re kind of gearing up our team, it’s called Team Bomb Squad, obviously after the Bombers, to become those professional that are competing at our events,” Ciotoli said.

Ciotoli competed on the wrestling team at Ithaca College and then stayed on as an assistant coach after graduating in 2002. His transition from wrestling to MMA happened shortly afterward.

“I got into mixed martial arts and some competitions and really loved the sport and kind of expanded from there and opened up some gyms,” he said.

“We have kids classes and I think our oldest member is 75 so we get a mix, and really the classes are meant for the general public, so we’ll teach some basic boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, mixed martial arts and basic fitness classes as well,” Ciotoli said.

Joshua Lange, the general manager at Ultimate Athletics, said he is excited about this change in the law regarding MMA and he believes it will help a lot of fighters like him push their skills to the next level.

“From a New York standpoint, where it was illegal, I think the changes that will be around is a lot of amateurs will get to fight with their teammates who maybe are pro fighters,” Lange said. “It will be a great experience to train with my teammates that are still amateur fighters; being on the same card I think would be inspiring for both of us, both the amateurs and the pros.”

Lange also believes that the changes to the law will benefit both the fans and the fighters. By bringing amateur and professional fighters together, Lange hopes to build on the growing culture of MMA.

Joshua Lange and his brother Kevin pose inside of the new fighting cage at Ultimate Athletics Gym located at Triphammer Mall. (Provided photo.)

“I think that would be pretty neat for even people that come in and buy tickets to watch and see the two different levels,” Lange said. “That’s pretty exciting, even as a fan of the art, to come over here and watch them grow. You can watch an amateur grow and become a pro, and you can watch a pro grow up and maybe make it to the big show or UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).”

All of these opportunities were formerly much harder to come by for an MMA fighter living in the state of New York. Now that the law has changed, the fighters living in the state can finally make money from competing, without having to travel.

“It will probably be nice to sleep in your own house as opposed to travelling up to Maine for like seven and a half hours, cutting weight, cramping,” Lange said with a smile.

Recently, Ciotoli and his team put up a fighting cage in their gym located at Triphammer Mall, expecting it to be the site of future venues. Lange said that people have often been intimidated by the sheer sight of the cage in the past, but that this perception is changing thanks to the tremendous growth of MMA.

“The cage looks very intimidating to a lot of people but I think that’s kind of an old school of thought, because people are so exposed to MMA now and they understand what’s going on,” Lange said.

With the legalization of professional MMA fighting in New York, that cage seems likely to get a lot of use in the near future. Ciotoli and Lange both look forward to bringing professional venues to Ultimate Athletics and providing amateur fighters with the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

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Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week is a weekly publication produced by Ithaca College students in the multimedia journalism program.