In the red corner, Station Casinos, owned by UFC co-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. With 18 hotel-casinos and 14,000 members, Station is the USA's largest non-union gaming company.
And in the blue corner, Culinary Union Local 226. The Nevada-based union with over 60,000 members, has conducted a unsuccessfull 15-year campaign to unionize Station Casinos.
48 states currently have athletic commissions. Of these, only New York, Connecticut and Vermont do not regulate MMA events. In Vermont, bouts are held regularly, but with no government oversight. Connecticut is believed to begin regulation sometime in 2011, and already has regular MMA events on Indian reservations of the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino and Foxwoods Resort, regulated by tribal Athletic Commissions.
That leaves New York as the USA's sole holdout. Is the refusal of New York State to regulate MMA due to.the success of male grandmother State Sen. Bob Reilly, who holds a factually incorrect understanding of the sport, and seems to genuinely believe that MMA represents the fall of Western Civilization. Or is there something more complex at work?
UFC president Dana White stated that the real reason MMA had yet to be legalized in New York State is not due to the merits of Mixedd Martial Arts, but rather to vindictive union behavior.
“It has nothing to do with mixed martial arts the reason that we’re not in New York. It has to do with the Culinary Union. The Culinary Union is spending millions of dollars of all these people who pay dues to keep us out of there. Because my partners the Fertitta brothers are the largest non-union gaming company in the country,” White told MMAWeekly.com.
“These union idiots, all these people work in the Culinary Union, paying all their money towards dues, this is what all their money’s being spent towards.”
“It has nothing to do with MMA. It has to do with the Culinary Union. They’re very powerful in New York. These unions on the east coast are still strong like the old school, and that’s really what’s going on.”
“Fighting the UFC from coming there and bringing money into the state of New York,” White said of what the unions are doing. “Basically, when we go in, look at what’s happened here. People stay in hotels, go to restaurants, malls, etc.
“This is what the union’s spending the people’s dues on.”
The Culinary Union's parent company is UNITE HERE, which happens to be one of two groups lobbying in New York on mixed martial arts. MMAFighting recently acquired a memo that outlines their opposition to the proposed bill to legalize mixed martial arts, Bill S01707A.
There is no acknowledgment of the Culinary Union's fight against Station Casinos in the memo, or even the supposedly brutal nature of MMA -- a major talking point for Assemblyman Bob Reilly, New York's loudest critic of MMA.
Instead, the memo focuses primarily on the UFC. It states that the UFC "has achieved nearly a monopoly position in the sport of mixed martial art (sic), to dictate abusive and exploitative contract terms with fighters" and later points to Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce in March as "potentially" making "it even more difficult for professional mixed martial arts fighters to negotiate fair contracts."
The memo added that MMA fighters do not enjoy "outside-the-ring" protection from "unscrupulous promoters." It points to the fact that "in mixed martial arts, there is also no central industry standard-setting body or a fighters' union. Given these similarities, strong legal safeguards against abusive and exploitative contracts between a promoter and a fighter should be carefully examined before mixed martial arts events are legalized in this State."
"There are numerous organizations promoting professional mixed martial arts competitions in the 45 states that regulate the sport, not to mention those fights conducted in states in which the sport remains unregulated but legal," a spokesman on behalf of the UFC stated. "Only New York expressly bans the sport. An economic impact study from February 2011 found that if MMA were regulated in New York the UFC is expected to hold 2 competitions while smaller operators would average about 70. Indeed, in Ohio and California alone, there are over 100 fights a year which have nothing to do with the UFC. The UFC conducts its business in a highly regulated environment and does not engage in any business practices which could remotely be characterized as a restraint to any other organization's ability to conduct its business. To suggest otherwise is without merit."
Another issue brought up in Hotel Trade Council's memo against the UFC and MMA was the "high-profile controversies over fighter pay and contract disputes." It points to certain provisions in UFC contracts that "seem abusive," like the championship clause and fighters being labeled as "independent contractors" despite being exclusively tied to the UFC.
The UFC responded to MMAFighting
"The contracts are the standard in the industry and are negotiated fairly. They are generally for a 1-2 year duration and may cover 3-6 matches. The more recognizable fighters can earn millions on their own through endorsements and appearances. To isolate a small number of well publicized business disputes in no way suggests that our business practices are unfair to the vast majority or that the terms of any contracts are onerous."
"In Toronto the UFC spent over $1 million in direct wages to union employees. Almost 500 union workers – from stagehands to electricians to security guards to ushers – would be employed for a single UFC event at Madison Square Garden. In fact, the very union opposing this bill and criticizing the UFC's business practices sought its business for its very own travel booking company called Inmex, ensuring that UFC stays in unionized hotels around the country."
"The hotel workers are opposing legislation which would create jobs for their members and seek to disparage a company with which it does business for reasons wholly unrelated to mixed martial arts or even the UFC. We would offer the real motivation for its 'opposition' is the fact that a company in Las Vegas, a totally separate business outside of New York, has not acquiesced in a culinary union organizing drive; the only nexus between these two situations is the fact that some of the owners of the UFC happen to be partial owners of that separate company in Nevada."
A standalone bill for the legalization and regulation of MMA in New York, passed through the relevant Senate Committee by a vote of 13-1 in March. UFC officials say they are optimistic the senate will pass the bill.
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Image courtesy of Elias Cepeda
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