Mixed martial arts fans want to knock out boxing as the country's most popular fighting sport. It looks like brawling to many of us, with tactics just short of eye-gouging and hair-pulling, but choosing is what competition is all about. Naturally, some people want the government to say whether it's "allowable."
Twenty or so years ago someone came up with the idea of dispensing with the Marquess of Queensbury and his formal rules of boxing, to put practitioners of karate, kung fu and jiujitsu in the ring together and see who survives (just like boxing). A lot of people like to watch, and the new sport has grown into a $500-million-a-year industry.
Nearly every state sanctions the mayhem. Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, reluctantly signed legislation to allow the bouts in Connecticut. New York remains the last state where the fights are against the law. The law forbidding the bouts was enacted in 1997, and Madison Square Garden, where so many champions have been crowned, has entertained no mixed martial arts championship fight.
The opposition to the sport has not come from anti-violence advocates opposed to public displays of pugilism, but from labor unions with a good deal of leverage with New York politicians and a grudge to settle. Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, created the sport with the investment of Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, owners of the Station Casinos, one of the largest groups of non-union gambling halls in the country. The powerful Culinary Workers Union of Nevada has tried unsuccessfully for 15 years to organize the company's 18 casinos, but the 12,000 employees haven't been interested. The unions haven't forgotten.
To punish the Fertitta brothers, the unions have fought bitterly against the sport as sexist, misogynist and marked by "wanton brutality." The union has set up websites to attack individual fighters and corporate executives.
The Culinary Union's New York parent, called Unite Here, has so far persuaded the politicians in Albany to give up the expected $25 million in tax revenue. Such persuasion is no easy task. Nonetheless, the Democratic leadership in the Assembly has blocked legislation legalizing the sport, refusing to allow the legislation to come to a vote. Thirty-five Democrats in the assembly signed the agreement, echoing the union line that the sport is "brutal and barbaric." It's not at all clear how men punching and kicking men is "anti-woman," but that's another union argument.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship jabs at the state of New York and the collectors of revenue by holding title fights across the Hudson River in New Jersey. The organizers have dispatched lawyers to the courthouse to challenge the ban in New York as a violation of the First Amendment, not as a violation of the right to worship, but as a violation of free speech.
Other sports border on brutal, too. "Barbaric" might be an exaggeration, but the National Football League is finally taking notice of the damage men can do by pounding the brains of other men in the name of sport. If aficionados of the martial arts want to risk life and limb and get paid for it, it seems to us they have that right. The Culinary Workers Union is trying to bake a cake to its own taste.
The Washington Times
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