While fans may still be basking in the afterglow of UFC 139, another fight featuring UFC personnel continues to take place thousands of miles away in New York as the organization faces off with the Empire State in a battle featuring stakes much higher than a title-shot or championship belt. On the line is none other than the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts, a prize worth tens of millions of dollars and serving to further legitimize the sport in the eyes of many.
CEO Lorenzo Fertitta recently sat down with Capital Tonight where he discussed the UFC’s recent decision to file a lawsuit against the State citing a violation of First Amendment rights and why the company has had such a difficult time thus far getting approval from the powers that be to hold a live event there.
“When we first started focusing on New York about five years ago we felt there was very strong argument that the ban that was put in place violated the Constitution,” Fertitta began on the topic. “What we decided to do was kind of take the legislative route ”“ we’ve been up here in Albany a number of times, talked to the legislature. We’ve passed through the Senate twice. We’ve passed through the Tourism Committee and the Assembly but we’ve yet to be able to get a vote on the floor. We believe it would pass but until we get a vote we won’t know.”
“Because of that we decided we had to take a different route,” the Zuffa executive continued. “We believe that this ban violates the First Amendment rights of our athletes. All of our athletes are martial artists. And in martial arts there are key tenants that exist there, whether it be honor, discipline, courage”¦things that they’re expressing in the ring.”
Fertitta went on to describe the numerous positives legalization would create including an opportunity for role models to emerge, citing Matt Hamill as an example, as well as the economic impact a UFC event can have on the city hosting it. According to Fertitta, UFC 129 brought in $35 million in revenue to Toronto, and while New York City might be in good shape, he mentioned cities like Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany as locations that could benefit from a UFC event in their neck of the woods.
He also replied to criticism that the UFC is opposed to working with unions stemming from the State’s Culinary Union vocal attempts to stymie the promotion’s success where legalization is concerned.
“We are certainly not anti-union,” said Fertitta who revealed the group’s real issue with the UFC has to do with his family’s business, Station Casinos, not using unionized workers and the Culinary Union trying to gain leverage over them to force a change. “When we do these events, our company, pretty much every single venue is a union venue. For instance in Toronto we paid over $3,000,000 in direct wages to union workers”¦people that set the place up, put up the lighting, did the camera work, did all the concessions.”
The UFC filed their lawsuit against New York less than a week ago meaning it’s far too early to see how things will unfold. However, if their attempt at litigation fails it could result in a crucial blow to the chances of MMA being legalized meaning fans’ desire to see a live event in Madison Square Garden remains little more than a dream at this stage.
PHOTO CREDIT – Cathleen Allison