More on the NY State Assembly’s Failure to Put MMA to a Vote…and Why

Although few that follow the story were surprised by the failure of the bill to legalize MMA in New York State to reach the floor of the Assembly, there’s been plenty of reaction in MMA media circles.

The UFC’s Vice-President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner aired his grievances to the Times Union’s Jimmy Vielkind:

“I’m unhappy,” said Marc Ratner, UFC’s vice president for regulatory and governmental affairs. “I know we have the votes, but to not, in baseball terms, get an at bat is patently unfair and un-American.”

Hyperbole aside, it was quite the farce. Then again, it’s New York State politics, so that’s to be expected.

Silver yesterday decided not to put the legislation on the floor after a closed door meeting with most of 101 members of the Assembly’s Democratic conference. Silver claimed that an informal poll revealed that there wasn’t sufficient support to bring the bill to a vote. However, an anonymous source within the conference later told Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News that by her count it was about sixty to twenty-five in favor of the bill.

Between the growing support among Democrats in the Chamber and Assembly Republicans, those I’ve talked to in the Capitol think the bill easily would have passed this year if it had reached the floor.

Once again there’s been a lot of talk about the Culinary Union blocking the bill, but I’ve been corrected on that by many people in the know. For those who are unaware, the Fertitta brothers own Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC. They also own Station Casinos and operate the only non-union casinos in Las Vegas, making them a prime target for the local Culinary Union (a subsidiary of Unite Here). The Union’s been more than happy to attack Zuffa in New York and take credit for the strength of opposition to MMA, but the truth I’ve learned over the last two years is that it is owed more (sadly) to out and out ignorance and stubbornness of guys like Bob Reilly, Ron Canestrari, and Silver. Trust me when I say I wanted there to be a conspiracy of some sort, because the truth that it’s just people who don’t understand and even worse don’t want to understand is much more discouraging from an intellectual standpoint. But that’s politics for you.

Over at Fight Opinion, Zach Arnold brings up an important point about the latest Siena Poll on MMA and the seeming lack of support from New Yorkers for legalization.

I don’t care who you are, a consistent year-in, year-out 38% approval rate for any piece of legislation spells doom and rightfully so. However, when this inconvenient truth is mentioned to boosters, look out. All of a sudden, the constituents that the backers want to win over so bad suddenly become evil people who are ignorant, stupid, and don’t deserve MMA shows.



This attitude has permeated in the press throughout the yearly attempts of MMA legislation in New York. MMA is a sport I truly love, but I also recognize that it’s not for everyone and you can’t force people to eat the proverbial dog food if they don’t want to eat it. It doesn’t make them bad human beings.


He’s right about the poll, but wrong about it being a factor (same with the Unions who outside of Unite Here putting out public digs against Zuffa don’t give a lick about this issue). Polls and numbers are important, but so is context. A 38% approval rating isn’t great, but it also isn’t going to prevent anything from getting passed because MMA is a very, very low level issue for the average New Yorker.

If the bill was to pass the Assembly, there would not be outrage or indignation, nor would there be picketers and protests outside of events at Madison Square Garden. The circus has much more passionate and legitimate opposition and it still comes to town. The 38% number isn’t because people in New York are disgusted by MMA, it’s because they either don’t care and/or they’re swayed by the fact that it can’t get passed, so they assume it must be awful. If it were to pass and you were to conduct the same poll in three years, I guarantee you’d see a number in the high sixties or low seventies. That’s (sadly) how it works for low lying, uncontroversial issues.

Long story short, the only reason MMA didn’t pass because Sheldon Silver and a handful of his friends really, really don’t like it. Some of them are retiring while the rest are starting to ebb to the pressure of opposition and embarrassment of coverage each year. It’ll happen, probably next year. And no culinary union or poll will be able to stop it.

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