Marc Ratner, hero

We all have heroes. It could be Nelson Mandela or Dan Crenshaw, Donald Trump or Abraham Lincoln, Tom Brady or Muhammad Ali, Julius Ceasar or Joan of Arc, Lady Di or Socrates, or all, or some other figure entirely who inspires, who gives hope that our better self will rise. One of my heroes is Marc Ratner.

For 35 years he has run the shot clock for UNLV basketball home games. For over 20 years he’s been a Div I football official. He’s also been the UFC’s Senior Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for 15 years, and before that was the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission for 24 years, and helped found the Association of Boxing Commissions. He’s an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, World Boxing Hall of Fame, and the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, among others. 

Moving down a degree in prestige, he’s also the commissioner of high school sports officials for Southern Nevada. During a recent interview with Thomas Gerbasi for UFC.com, Ratner explained how his work in collegiate and high school sports benefited his efforts at the highest levels of combat sports.

“I think more than anything, with all the major craziness I dealt with in boxing, I was able to stay calm,” he explained. “Whether it was ‘The Bite Fight’ or the Fan Man, or Zab and Floyd’s father and uncle fighting, I was always pretty calm, and that comes, I believe, from officiating basketball and football, where you have to stay calm and not get carried away and get mad at a coach. So I think that background really helped me. It’s all about people, and you have to be able to talk and listen and that’s one of my better qualities – that I don’t make real quick decisions. I try to hear all sides and try to be reasonable.”

And Ratner talked about his entry into the UFC.

“When Lorenzo [Fertitta] first called me in the fall of ’05, I thought it was just to talk about rules and what we could do better as a commission. And then he said, I may have something for you in the future,” explained Ratner. “That was all. Then, I would say early January [of 2006], now it’s Dana [White] and Lorenzo and Kirk [Hendrick], and they said, ‘Marc, you understand the sport, we think you can help us get it approved in other places. You know how the State commissions work and you know a lot of them.” 

Then came the big question: “Have you ever thought about leaving the commission?” 

“No,” he replied. “I think I have the best regulatory job in the world.”

But as always, Marc Ratner listened and thought. Ultimately, he changed his mind.

“I think the main reason that I came over was because it was a chance to be on the ground floor of a new sport,” said Ratner. “None of us were here for baseball or football, but this was still a brand new sport in so many ways, and I think that was a deciding factor.”

“When it was first announced, I had some people say, ‘You’re betraying the sport of boxing,’ which was a weird thing to say. When I left, the commission staff was a little upset because it left them not knowing what would be next. The commissioners understood. But I found there was a lot of negative reaction around the boxing world. They were saying, ‘Once you leave, it’s gonna be hard to come back,’ and that kind of stuff.”

“What’s amazing is that now when I go to a boxing match, they don’t want to discuss anything but the UFC.”

When Ratner began working for the UFC in 2006, MMA was legal and regulated in 22 states. One by one he got the rest, with one big apple missing.

For nine years he went to NY’s capitol Albany to get mixed martial arts legalized and regulated. The effort cost the league perhaps $2,000,000 in all. Five times a regulation bill passed the Senate but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refused to bring it to a vote, due to the influence of a Las Vegas culinary union. In 2015, Silver resigned as Speaker, following his arrest on corruption charges; the wicked witch was then convicted and sent to jail.

New Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is a supporter of the MMA, but that year the bill again passed the Senate, in multiple versions, but again did not get sufficient support in the Assembly. So New York remained the only state or province in North America where MMA was prohibited.

However, amateur MMA contests were taking place, often without blood tests. It is known that fighters with Hepatitis and even a case of HIV were competing in New York, but without regulation nothing was stopping them.

In 2016 the legislation passed at long last, over the most bizarre arguments against MMA ever made to date. MMA was now 50-0, legal everywhere in North America. The UFC made its first appearance in the Empire State in two decades with UFC 205, and Ratner counts it among his sweetest moments.

“Nothing was as special for me,” he said. “It started when we finally got New York done and went to the Assembly and saw the vote finally after all those years. Then I was at the Garden for the weigh-in and saw over 15,000 people there. And certainly, the next night, it was Conor and Eddie Alvarez. It was one of the most exciting nights for me to see this vision we all had about New York come to fruition. That was a big weekend.”

“What I want more than anything is to say that it was not only me. There were quite a few different people that were with me, like Mike Mersch, and certainly in New York, there was Lorenzo and Dana and different fighters. So I never want that to be glossed over. We had a lot of help.”

Ratner was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on November 21, 2020.

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