In a recent editorial by Kid Nate of Bloody Elbow entitled "Culinary Union Attacks On UFC Causing Promotion Real Headaches," it is rightly pointed out that much of the negative press surrounding the UFC as of late has been spearheaded by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. For those not in the know, the union has been engaged in a long term war with UFC majority owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, owners of the Las Vagas based non-union Station Casio chain.
New York, being one of the few states that has yet to regulate Mixed Martial Arts, has become a convenient battleground for the Culinary Union and the Fertittas to engage in a proxy war which is leaving the majority of the NY MMA community crushed in its wake. Make no mistake, this is a two way street. It takes two to fight a public battle like this. And unlike the sport we would like to see regulated here in NY, the Fertitta/Union battle has no referee to make sure parties fight fairly.
The UFC, with it's large pulpit and pocketbook, uses NY MMA as a platform to launch attacks at the Union on behalf of the Fertittas every chance they get. Likewise the Union and their supporters see preventing MMA regulation in NY as a means to stick it to the Fertittas, via the UFC, who run the largest non-union casinos in Vegas. These attacks have come in the form of disingenuous opposition from the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence, opposition of MMA regulation by union friendly legislators in Albany, FTC investigations of the UFC, and most recently UFC Sponsor Anheuser-Busch's warning to the UFC to curb the behavior of their athletes.
On top of this, a lot of people are making a lot of money because MMA is unregulated in NY. The unions and the UFC have presumably been contributing to the campaigns of their supporters for years. Both side are employing lobbyists, PR firms, etc...all to address the problem of NY MMA regulation. Yet here we sit with no professional MMA in NY.
As with most wars, massive armies will trample through villages and towns laying waste to the residents who live there. This war is no different. As Peter Lampasona of TheFightNerd.com notes in his commentary on Auheuser-Busch's warning to the UFC, "the disproportionate amount of blow-back to the entire sport for negative publicity from individuals passed insane about a mile back."
Ask any non-fan, casual fan, or new fan on the streets of NY what MMA is and they invariably think the UFC is MMA. I doubt the average response would be much different from an Albany legislator. This is by design and the UFC has brilliantly marketed themselves into this position of being ubiquitously equated with the sport of MMA. This is where the problem lies and why the Fertitta/Union war has truly hurt NY MMA.
In reality, contrary to what the average voter or legislator thinks, as large and as powerful as the UFC is, it is still only a small fraction of the MMA community in NY or what the community would evolve into were the state to regulate the sport. Let's look at the example of our closest neighbor, New Jersey. The NJ Athletic Control Board sanctioned 39 MMA shows in 2010 and 34 in 2011. That's a grand total of 73 shows, of which only 2 were a UFC (Strikeforce was not yet purchased by Zuffa when they held their 2011 grand prix event in NJ).
Yes, only 2 out of 73 shows were a UFC. Do you think NY would be any different? Yet, the average legislator and voter in NY would most likely believe something quite the opposite. Most discussion regarding MMA regulation in NY centers around bringing the UFC to NY or keeping the UFC out of NY. Not bringing Strikeforce to NY, or M1-Global, or Bellator, or the CFFC, or Ring of Combat, or Reality Fighting, or Evolution, or New Breed Fighters, or...well, you get the idea.
Assuming that the UFC is MMA is an inaccurate line of thinking in the least and a harmful one at worst. Particularly when we consider the negative press the Fertitta/Union war brings to NY MMA. To only consider the UFC when one considers the problem of MMA regulation in NY is to throw the baby out with the bath water; quite a big baby in fact.
When one considers the financial gains and employment opportunities NY could gather from regulation of MMA, discussion generally centers around what 1 or 2 UFC events a year could contribute to our state. However, it is my opinion that no study has seriously looked at the potential impact of the other 71 MMA events that could take place in NY; in struggling small towns and cities where the UFC would never consider setting up shop. Small towns like Tonowanda, NY where the first sanctioned amateur NY MMA show in 10 years will take place this month.
The bottom line is this: NY MMA is much larger than the UFC and it is our responsibility as coaches, gym owners, business owners, fighters, sanctioning bodies, journalists, and fans to keep educating our legislators. We must impress upon our legislators that we would love to have a UFC at Madison Square Garden. But, we would also like a Ring of Combat in Islip, or other smaller shows in Ithica, Syracuse, Rochester, Plattsburgh, Utica, or any number of smaller venues that could support local events.
When considering the issue of NY MMA, think locally. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. MMA is bigger than the UFC.
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY
UPDATE 5/7/12: The Assembly threw the baby out with the bath water for 2012
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