On January 10, 2012 the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV) released a memo to the NYS Assembly urging them to "to uphold the ban on cage fighting" in New York State. The memo, attached below, addresses the unfortunate behavior of Dana White, President of the UFC and several fighters contracted to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC); suggesting that these incidents "contribute to a culture of violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people" and noting the effect these incidents may have on child viewers. The notion that continuing prohibition of live Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in New York , despite the offensive nature of the incidents cited in the memo, is completely incongruent with said concerns and itself upsetting in several ways. Let’s begin with the fact that the sanctioned professional sport is not called cage fighting as described in the memo.
I doubt anyone would argue in favor of the unfortunate, offensive, and possibly damaging decisions a minority of people associated with the UFC have made with regard to their behaviors on camera and social media; mistakes many other athletes, professional wrestlers, politicians, boxers, and public figures have made. Unfortunately, moderation of what public figures say and do is not an easy task. Equally difficult is education and subsequent behavior change. But why is perpetuating the ban on live MMA the wrong way to go?
Primarily, this memo is clearly another attempt by the culinary union and their supporters to take a shot at the Fertitta brothers. For those not in the know, the Fertittas are majority owners of Zuffa, LLC (parent company of the UFC) as well as the non-union Station Casino chain the culinary union is battling in Las Vegas. Recently, the union has used New York MMA as a proxy battle ground in this fight. The UFC has been no better in this regard, similarly sacrificing New York MMA to attack the union on another front. The memo is quite transparent in that it specifically addresses the UFC, not any other promotion or concerns with the sport as a whole.
While concerns regarding UFC’s policies (or lack of) may be valid, to prevent legalization of a sanctioned professional sport in this state over such concerns in outright wrong. These are entirely unrelated debates. MMA is larger than the UFC. In 2010, in New Jersey for example, the New Jersey Athletic Control Board (NJACB) sanctioned 19 professional MMA and 20 amateur MMA shows. Only one was a UFC. In 2011, the NJACB oversaw 350 individual MMA bouts (199 pro, 151 amateur). There was only one UFC in NJ in 2011 including 12 individual bouts. 12 out of 350 NJ MMA bouts were UFC. The professional sport of MMA is one thing, union battles and policy changes in a particular promotional company are another. Both the UFC and the union are to blame for these monumental distractions in the effort to legalize live MMA in New York. Now, the NCDSV has unjustly added to the confusion surrounding our sport.
Importantly, maintaining prohibition of live MMA in New York (which began long before Zuffa, LLC ever existed) as the letter supports, would have little or no affect on the UFC, which does not need New York State to continue its growth and development. Perpetuating the ban on live MMA in New York will offer no solution for the damage done by incidents like those mentioned in the memo. The damage of incidents like these is done via television, pay-per-views, social media and other mass media outlets, which every New Yorker already has access to. To maintain the live ban on MMA in New York as some sort of punishment of the UFC would not prompt or encourage the policy changes the NCDSV would like to see.
However, continuing the prohibition of live MMA will have an effect in New York. It will continue to hurt the tax-paying New Yorkers who make a living in this sport as coaches, athletes, promoters, merchandisers, etc. It would affect the state by depriving us of well needed income during one of the worst financial crises this state has ever seen. And most importantly, it will keep alive an antiquated, out-of-date, and poorly written law that arguably violates the United States Constitution.
The ban on live MMA affects us locally, not the UFC globally. If the unions and the advocacy groups concerned about particular messages the UFC may portray were genuinely interested in making a change, they would be attempting to work with the UFC and other promoters on policy development, not trying to act as hall monitors and stamp out a professionally sanctioned sport.
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY