Mixed martial arts remains illegal in New York state, and the reason is as simple as it is disgusting: politics.
The Culinary Workers Union 226 of Las Vegas has done anything it can to harass UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta because their gaming company, Stations Casinos, is non-union. The union has actively worked against the UFC, which is 90 percent owned by the Fertitta brothers, as retaliation.
The union has lobbied against the legalization of the sport in New York. It has encouraged visitors not to vacation in Las Vegas. It has picketed non-union casinos and harassed its guests. An editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper on Dec. 17 railed against what it called the "union’s reckless and economically harmful political stunts."
There is no reason that a state which regulates boxing cannot also regulate MMA. And were the UFC to be sold to a group with no beef with the Culinary Union, any and all objections the union has to its legalization in New York would magically disappear.
The vocal advocates of MMA had their hopes raised on Thursday when the powerful Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York state assembly, was arrested in New York and charged with corruption. Silver reportedly received around $6 million in bribes and kickbacks.
Silver is the man who almost single-handedly has prevented MMA's legalization in New York. Even though the votes were there in both houses of the New York legislature to pass the bill, Silver wouldn't allow it to come to a vote. So, as a result, it failed.
Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, painted an unflattering portrait of Silver when he spoke with reporters in Manhattan on Thursday.
For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question: How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: He didn’t.
Silver's arrest could be seen as good news by MMA fans, and it is, to some degree. But it is hardly a guarantee that the issue will be brought to a vote in the summer.
The Culinary Union isn't simply going to forget this issue. In Silver, it had someone willing to do its bidding for whatever unknown reason, but what the union has proven throughout this battle is the power that it yields. Even though the public wanted MMA's legalization in New York and a majority of lawmakers were in favor of it, it didn't get done.
So the union will have to find another way to fight the battle. And have no doubt that it will.
MMA should be just as legal as boxing, as well as baseball, football, basketball and hockey, for that matter, in New York state.
But logic and the people's will don't always rule the day. And it's no guarantee now even though the strongest opponent of MMA in New York is facing serious criminal charges.
There is reason for some slight optimism, but it would be wise to hold off on travel reservations for the first UFC show at Madison Square Garden for the time being.