Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mixed Martial Arts Legalized in Connecticut and Canada; New York State Still Waiting

By: Rich Bergeron

Connecticut became the 49th state to legalize Mixed Martial Arts last Wednesday, and after years of hazy confusion regarding MMA's status in Canada the sport finally became legal across all provinces there last week. The lone holdout state here in the USA is New York, and the reasoning behind that failure to launch seems to have little to do with safety concerns. Instead, the legalization of mixed martial arts in the Empirie State appears to be a political football in the hands of a powerful union called Unite Here.

While attempting to force Station Casinos to unionize their workforce, a Las Vegas subsidiary of Unite Here called The Culinary Union (Local 226) is using a peculiar strategy to intimidate and irritate the casino chain's ownership. The Culinary Union is waging a war on all business interests owned by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III, the billionaire brothers who own the majority of both Station Casinos and Zuffa, LLC (The parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championships). Though the jury is still out on how this campaign will actually pay any dividends toward unionizing Station Casinos, it is apparently beginning to cause massive headaches for politicians in New York who support legalizing MMA there.

Those unfamiliar with the Culinary's efforts might expect MMA legalization in New York to follow closely behind
the Canadian and Connecticut legislatures coming to their senses on the issue, but the opposition is taking on a life of its own in recent months. The union managed to mobilize multiple interest groups behind their efforts to bar the UFC from capitalizing on the New York market. As a June 20th deadline for a final vote on the issue gets closer, women's groups in the state are taking the strongest stand against legalization. This appears primarily driven by the Culinary's exposure of the issues presented through their site: http://www.unfitforchildren.org.
Like the captain of a sinking ship making sure the women and children get into the first lifeboats, the union's success is driven by their inflated sense of chivalry. Their plan seems to be working out just fine now that the legislature in New York is also plagued by scandal involving sexual harrassment accusations and alleged cover ups.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a stalwart advocate for MMA legalization, is caught up in the scandal for approving settlement payments to two of the first accusers of Vito Lopez, the assemblyman facing the harrassment charges in question. Lopez since resigned his seat and his leadership of a local Brooklyn Democratic Party outfit. Silver is caught in the crossfire due to his handling of the accusations, and this reality puts him at odds with women's groups and female legislators.

Another issue facing Silver when it comes to the MMA bill's potential for passage (or lack thereof) is his connection to former chief counsel Michael Boxley. His former lawyer now works for a lobbying firm in Albany that represents the UFC. Boxley was accused of rape twice by legislative staffers during his time as an aide to Silver. Boxley actually pleaded guilty to a sexual misconduct charge in one of those instances.

The combined exposure of the crass behavior and criminal backgrounds of some UFC fighters by the Culinary Union and the turmoil unearthed by the Lopez scandal threaten to keep the MMA bill from even getting voted on in this year's session. Thirty-five assembly democrats recently drafted a letter urging Silver to stop the MMA legalization process in the name of logic that smacks of punishing the whole class for the bad behavior of a handful of students.

The overall safety record of the sport of MMA seems irrelevant in this climate. Boxing remains legal in New York despite the fact that boxers die in sanctioned professional competition every year while there have only been three deaths reported throughout the history of sanctioned MMA events. Should professional MMA remain banned in New York forever, it won't be because of any informative safety study or actual evidence of the sport's inherent danger. Instead the real truth is stranger than fiction. What happens in Vegas obviously isn't staying there when it comes to the Culinary Union, and thanks to their efforts what happens when the UFC hosts fight cards Vegas is not likely to happen in the cash-strapped state of New York anytime soon as long as politics trumps the truth.
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