by Brian McNicoll
Wouldn’t it be terrific if the federal government did for mixed martial arts what it has done for boxing?, said no one ever.
Actually, there is a guy — a former mixed martial arts fighter at that. His name is U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville.
Mullin wants to bring mixed martial arts under the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 because he claims, as most fighters do at some point, that “it’s slanted toward promoters.” Better, he says, that the federal government come in and make mixed martial arts as ethical and fair and transparent as boxing by imposing rules on MMA that boxing summarily ignores.
Mullin’s beef seems to be that boxers have the right to look at the books. Boxing promoters routinely ignore this rule, and it’s not terribly likely the information would be accurate if they did provide it.
There is a lawsuit in federal court in Nevada on the same issue, and the Arizona-based lawyer behind it is among the big advocates for putting MMA under the same regulations as boxing.
The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the leading mixed martial arts promotion company. It was virtually bankrupt when the current owners took over in 2001, but this year it will promote more than 500 athletes in 42 events and broadcast in 150 countries to more than 1 billion households. It’s widely credited with making MMA the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world.
UFC says its fighters are among the highest-paid in the business and that those who want to see the books on pay-per-view deals routinely negotiate that into their contracts.
It takes serious issue with Mullin’s contention that UFC “had not established credible and objective criteria to rate professional boxers. … That ratings are susceptible to manipulation, have deprived boxers of fair opportunities for advancement, and have undermined public confidence in the integrity of the sport.”
This is laughable on a number of levels. First, UFC is putting on a show here. It should be able to match up its fighters as it sees fit. If it rigs the matches, fans will walk away. And it cannot be seriously argued these regulations have produced credible rankings nor at all inspired confidence in boxing.
Besides, boxing is a matter for state regulation, and neither states nor Washington, D.C., ought to be designing rankings procedures for fighters.
How exactly does government determine a rating system to be fair? Will we set up a board to review controversial decisions? Who sits on it? Why not let fans be the arbiter? They’re the ones who care.
This bill looks like the handiwork of unions and lawyers. It calls in the feds to lay the groundwork for lawsuits and insinuate themselves into negotiations between employers and employees. That’s to be expected of unions and trial lawyers. It is not expected from a congressman from the party of limited government.
One hopes Congress will find better things to do with its time than get involved in this.
McNicoll is a columnist based in Washington, D.C. He has worked for The Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.