By Alan Snel
Las Vegas Review-Journal
February 25, 2014
It was political Groundhog Day for Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship officials. Once again they were back in New York to lobby state lawmakers on legalizing professional mixed martial arts events there.
UFC usually gets what it wants — except in New York state, where mixed martial arts fights events are outlawed. It’s the only place in North America that bans pro MMA shows, including UFC events. UFC stages, promotes and markets dozens of MMA fight shows around the world and is valued at more than $2 billion, drawing revenue from pay-per-view, event ticket, website and merchandise sales.
A contingent of UFC officials led by Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein, plus a trio of UFC fighters, met dozens of state lawmakers on Jan. 27 and 28. This is the sixth straight year that UFC officials, including CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and President Dana White, are leaning on New York lawmakers to allow pro MMA fight shows. UFC usually dispatches its officials a few times a year to Albany, N.Y.
UFC’s political battles are in the New York Assembly, where female members argue MMA fights are barbaric and spawn violence against women. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, hasn’t allowed the MMA bill to reach the Assembly floor for a vote.
Meanwhile, the New York Senate annually passes the mixed martial arts bill, and is expected to do that again this year — possibly as early as next month.
During its recent visit, UFC rolled out female fighter Liz Carmouche, a former Marine from San Diego, to tell the state legislators that MMA is not degrading to women.
The political field trip served as the opening round in UFC’s 2014 efforts to legalize pro MMA fights in New York, said Steven Greenberg, UFC’s communications representative in Albany.
“This was the kickoff campaign for 2014 and for the effort to get the bill passed,” Greenberg said Tuesday. “We want to educate legislators. We’re doing everything to bring attention to the fact that 49 states have legalized and regulated MMA.”
Greenberg said New Yorkers can watch UFC and MMA events on television and attend amateur MMA events.
Greenberg said he couldn’t answer the question about whether Silver is any closer to allowing the bill to reach the Assembly floor this year.
“We’re trying to make the Assembly members understand the issues being raised by the opposition are red herrings and trying to generate as much support among the Democrats as possible so they can go to the speaker and tell him, ‘You have to let this bill come to the floor,’ ” Greenberg said.
If the MMA reached the Assembly floor, “it would pass overwhelmingly,” Greenberg predicted. “But the speaker has the power to block the bill from reaching the floor.”
UFC officials argue that Silver won’t allow the MMA bill to be voted on because he’s influenced by Culinary Local 226, which it says is upset with the Fertitta family for not allowing the family-controlled Station Casinos to be unionized. Culinary officials could not be immediately reached for comment.