NEW YORK (MainStreet)Last week at New York City's Beacon Theatre, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hosted its "World Tour" press conference to drum up publicity around the $500 million annual enterprise and its upcoming fights. But in an incongruous twist, though UFC president Dana White claims the MMA events could provide an economic surge of $23 million to the Empire State's economy each year, New York continues to ban the UFC despite the fact that it's legal in the country's other 49 states.
That's because the Culinary Workers Union, and particularly the Local 226 Las Vegas chapter, takes issue with what it alleges to be the UFC's anti-union policies. The organization, which represents workers in the hotel, food and gaming industries, casts aspersions at brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who run Zuffa, the UFC's parent company, and are also execs at Station Casinos, an un-unionized business headquartered in Las Vegas.
New York has been the anomaly in successfully keeping the UFC at bay, because of the union lobby, enforced by New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is so strong in the state.
"The most powerful politician in this state is keeping us out of New York," White said. "The union is very strong here in New York, and Shelly Silver is backed by the union."
White argues that denying New York State UFC events is actually depriving its residents and local municipalities of significant financial boons.
"And let's say we go up to Buffalo or Rochester," White said. "When you do a UFC event, people come in from all over the world, other parts of the country, and they stay in hotels, they eat in restaurants, they shop at the malls, they go to the clubs and they buy tickets."
There are also added job opportunities for the production of the events.
Speaker Silver's camp denies any union ulterior motives for its opposition to the UFC.
"The simple fact is members have expressed objections to allowing mixed martial arts in New York, and that is why the bill to legalize it has not passed," Silver's press secretary Michael Whyland told MainStreet. "The rumors you mention are baseless."
The UFC says it has enough votes to get its legalization approved in Albany, but Silver has continually put the kibosh on the bill's entry to the floor.
Whyland was unable to explain the exact reason for the opposition to the UFC, even though other martial sports like boxing and karate are legal in the state.
The Culinary Union did not respond to repeated inquiries.
Never stepping down from combat, the UFC continues to fight this legislatively--making substantial investments to push its weight around. Exactly how much the UFC has spent has not been publicly exposed, but White did describe it as "too many millions."
"When I tell you we've spent money and we've used some muscle, it's just a testament to how powerful one man can be," White said. "Is that democracy? No, it's not. It's a slap in the face to democracy that one man is the most powerful politician in an entire state where he can actually block progress, revenue, jobs, and the list goes on and on."
Ronda Rousey, the women's bantamweight champion expressed her enthusiasm for White's outspokenness.
"It's really about the Culinary Union," Rousey said. "I think like you've gotta be up front. Why not? Just say it. I think the world would be better if everyone just said what was on their mind all the time... 'Thou shalt be polite' is not a f*ckin' commandment."
Still, the UFC contingent is hopeful that there will be the opportunity for continued dialogue and potential change moving forward.
"You're like, 'Wait a minute, hey, can we have a ten-minute conversation?'" said Johny Hendricks, a UFC welterweight contender known for his knock-out punch dramatics. "I want to know why you really don't want me to be in New York, why you don't want me to fight in New York...It sucks that our dreams don't matter to some people."
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet