NEW YORK VS. MMA: MORE THAN JUST POLITICS

NEW YORK VS. MMA: MORE THAN JUST POLITICS

–Kenny Rice

Let’s talk politics.

Wait.

That’s the Cardinal Rule among friends, never debate politics or religion. One, you rarely ever change the other’s opinion and two, hurt feelings can linger long afterward.

Anyway if you were trying to talk about the politics of why MMA isn’t legal in New York State, no one would be entirely right and everyone would be more confused than before the debate began. It could be the most wobbly political football being kicked around in a state where twists and turns, tough talk and hard deals are not out of the ordinary.

MMA is out of the ordinary when it comes to the Empire State. Who is keeping it from being legalized there? Why can’t the powerhouse UFC, already with shows in Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, open the door?

The arguments are always, at least almost always, based on the violence of the sport. Yet boxing continues in the state and Madison Square Garden is readying for an event of the sweet science this weekend on NBC. Also there is fighting already in New York City, underground MMA as was reported a few weeks back by Ron Kruck for Inside MMA. People know about it, no one is obviously hiding it, witness allowing TV cameras inside their domain.

But with underground MMA there is no large pie to divide. It isn’t about fighter purses or ticketed admissions. If there is money to be made it isn’t enough to attract the main players, unions and politicians. And these two go fist in glove with what is happening or not happening with the progress of MMA cracking their toughest opponent ever. And that is the heart of it all, trying to figure out exactly who is the opponent. It’s akin to fighting Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre all at once–impossible.

Sure there have been vocal politicos, one in particular, who have lambasted the sport for its gore and barbarian ways in their opinions. Does anyone actually believe that one person alone or a few have blocked this from becoming a legalized sport? Do you think anyone is that powerful, especially seeing all the clutter taking place on the larger stage of Washington, D.C. with bills not being passed that affect all of us?

As with any political situation, from taxes to some type of reform to legalizing MMA in one state, there are the behind the scene movers and shakers, the power brokers that are rarely seen and rarely connected in the dots that make something happen or not. There are innuendos, rumors, veiled stances and deflected responses that say as much as anything else as to why New York is an MMA no-go.

Through the posturing and pontification there are some moments, however small they might seem at first, that play into the much larger picture of MMA’s problems. Last year the culinary union, a most powerful player in major cities hosting major events, showed up at a public hearing of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and as was their right, read a statement that might have been heard by some as a random piece of rhetoric about better pay for fighters. What they said was much bolder, louder and clearer to those who have been keeping score in New York. That over two thousand miles away in the desert a strong, unified stance was being displayed for those brethren in the concert jungle. New York City is union, that must be respected. Listening MMA? Particularly UFC? All that talk of better pay, more equality for fighters from pay-per-view and gate revenue wasn’t just about the athletes.

This isn’t to say it is all the union’s doing. There is some residue from earlier ham-fisted attempts to bring the sport to New York by trying to bully its way in. Those have been smoothed out for the better. Marc Ratner, well-respected for his role as Executive Director of Nevada’s commission prior to becoming UFC vice-president of Regulatory Affairs, has been a key component in getting those in the know and in control, to listen to the MMA case. That he is a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame has helped in a state and city where boxing has been a star for decades.

Is it inevitable that MMA will become legal in New York State? Can the unions and politicians and the brass running the UFC find a common ground and actually compromise without having to declare a winner or loser in the deal? That might be the biggest question.

The UFC frequently erects five-story billboards in the heart of Times Square to promote upcoming fights. They covet that piece of real estate a dozen blocks south of there, Madison Square Garden, one of the nation’s true iconic sports venues. Both the UFC and New York City are doing okay on their own. And maybe the UFC needs New York more than the other way around. It has been the Big Apple that has become the forbidden fruit in the UFC’s otherwise dominant control of the MMA garden. What most don’t have–more so when they have a lot–is what they most want.

Egos will eventually have to reel in and money will have to be distributed more evenly before an octagon is set up where a boxing ring stands now at the Garden.

This Friday on a special coast to coast live edition of Inside MMA (8ET) we will further explore the future of MMA in New York State.

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Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Friday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now

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