Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was in New York on Thursday (Nov. 21, 2013) at Madison Square Garden to discuss the economic benefits of mixed martila arts (MMA) becoming legal in the "Empire State." UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, along with middleweight champion Chris Weidman and several members of the New York State Assembly and Senate, were all on hand to express their opinions on the topic.
The good folks at HR&A Advisors were behind the information packets handed out and the charts that were shown to all who attended. According to their studies, if MMA was to become legal in NY, the sport would generate $135 million annually, with $34 million of that coming from UFC alone, with the remaining amount coming from other MMA promotions as well as training centers and gyms.
In case you aren't aware of what has happened the last several years in New York: the bill to make MMA legal has flown through the State Senate every time, yet failed to reach the State Assembly floor for a vote (details). The process is that there has to be a certain amount of known supporters before it is allowed to go to the floor for said vote. The argument is that it has that support but Assembly leader Sheldon Silver refuses to acknowledge it.
After the presser concluded, Fertitta was asked about the issue:
"That is the democratic process that we actually believe in and support," Fertitta told MMAmania.com. "It just hasn't made its way through yet. We are continuing to try to educate everyone, including Speaker Sheldon Silver. But we will let the Assemblyman who is in the caucaus explain..."
Stepping up to the dais next was Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi. But, instead of addressing the issue, he only professed his support for Silver and backed the process in assembly that is clearly flawed.
"I voted for Sheldon Silver to be my speaker. He's a brilliant elected official," Hevesi said. "There is a misconception that Shelly doesn't want it so it dies. Shelly is the leader of the biggest conference up in Albany. He has to deal with the opinion of over 100 members. It is a member driven organization.
"If Shelly doesn't have the votes for something and we count the votes... If he doesn't have the votes for something, he doesn't bring it up. That's a policy we all agree with. It's not that one man is stopping it, it's that we haven't reached the requisite number that he needs to get it out on the floor. I guarantee you that once we get those votes -- once we get that 76 -- that is the magic number, Shelly will put it up for a vote. He has done it on a wide range of issues."
Helvesi was asked a couple of follow ups, but for the most part, evaded answering what he was asked. It was quite interesting that he was there to speak today at all. He didn't exactly seem supportive and only backed Silver and how the voting process in Assembly works.
"It's something that I can understand where he is coming from because if he has to see Sheldon Silver every single day, you think he is going to start saying Sheldon Silver is involved in dirty politics?" UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman said to MMAmania.com regarding Helvesi. "That's a very powerful person. I understand what he is doing, it's part of politics and you have to work around it. The grand scheme is that it's wrong what is happening and it's unacceptable. It's a shame. It's a slap in the face and it comes down to dirty politics."
Fertiita wants UFC to hold events here in NY, and wants MMA to become legal here as much as the hardcore fan does, but his company is already a success and he won't lose sleep over the issue.
"It really doesn't weigh on me very much," Fertitta said about UFC not being able to come to NY. "At the end of the day we are going to continue to be a very successful company. We do events -- not only do events in major cities around the world -- major cities around the world beg us to do the events.
"They bid on our events as they would The World Cup or The Olympics, so we will continue to do big events in Las Vegas, in New Jersey, Rio, Sao Paulo, London, Stockholm, Tokyo, you name the city and we are going to be there. It's unfortunate that New York is not going to have one of those events, at least not in the near future, until something happens in the state legislature. Not only is NY the only state in the United States that doesn't allow this, but it's pretty much the only place in the world that we can't go."
The UFC Chairman and CEO admitted that the process regarding the Assembly voting on the bill is "frustrating," and he wanted to further address what Helvesi had said.
"It is, but to clarify, what he (Helvesi) was referring to was the democratic caucas, not the entire assembly," Fertitta explained to MMAmania.com after the presser wrapped. "We are very confident we have the votes in the assembly. What he was speaking about that because they have the majority, they get to determine the agenda and they won't bring bills to the floor -- as part of their agenda -- unless they have a majority vote within the caucas.
"It's frustrating, but like I said, we are going to continue. It's not really going to affect our business. We are still going to operate all around the world and expand and become more popular and grow the sport. One day, New York will wake up and do the right thing. Not by us, but by the athletes and everybody else in the industry. We've grown the sport from when we took this thing over 13 years ago to what it is today, without New York. We will continue to grow without New York, but it would be great to have it."
For more on yesterday's press conference including a full video replay click here.