(The face of an angel. PicProps: Boston Globe)
One of the more hilarious (and largely overlooked) aspects of the UFC’s response to the recent Chael Sonnen steroid fiasco was that whenever anybody asked Dana White about drug testing in MMA he basically threw his hands up and said the company couldn’t have anything to do with it, because “The Government” is in charge of that. For example, when White discussed the topic with Ariel Helwani before UFC 119 he took on a wide-eyed reverence that was so un-Dana it was clear he was just sticking to the company-approved talking points: “Everybody has this belief that, ‘Oh, Dana White has the commissions in (his pocket).’ Listen, the commission doesn’t give a shit what I think — what I think, what I say, nothing,” White said. “You’re dealing with the government, OK? That’s like thinking Dana White can tell the IRS what to do. It’s never gonna happen.”
Now, either DW is the only millionaire businessman in America who thinks “The Government” is doing a great job regulating his industry … or he’s bullshitting us. Obviously, his equating state athletic commissions with the IRS is laughable, but the assertion that a billion dollar company like the UFC couldn’t possibly get involved with “The Government” is also pretty clearly not true. In fact, according to reports out this week, Zuffa, LLC would very much like to take an active role in helping New York state pick its next governor, and this is certainly not the first time the UFC has dipped into its pockets to help sway “The Government” to its way of thinking.
You’ll recall that two years ago, the UFC hired a powerful firm of lobbyists to help “educate” Congress about MMA … and also apparently to try to avoid the establishment of a national boxing commission which would be overseen by the Commerce Department. Such an entity could potentially regulate the way fighter contracts are structured, and it’s pretty easy to see why Zuffa wouldn’t want that to happen. It’s also a given that a federally controlled fight commission could greatly impact how drug testing is handled in combat sports and it doesn’t take a huge logical jump to read between the lines about how promoters secretly feel about that, either.
Now the New York Post brings us news that Zuffa has dropped a cool $75,000 into the coffers of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic candidate to replace outgoing pro-MMA governor David Patterson. Cuomo is running against Republican Carl Paladino, a batshit crazy Tea Party-type and keyboard racist who has already said he has “reservations about cage fighting,” according to the Post. Cuomo has refused to take a stand on how he feels about legalizing MMA in the Empire State, but if the UFC is contributing to his campaign, perhaps it knows something we don’t. Not that Zuffa could ever influence “The Government” or anything …
Except that’s exactly what it appeared to do in Illinois, where the Chicago Sun Times and Huffington Post detail how “a classic Illinois cocktail of political clout and campaign cash led to (MMA’s) legalization.” According to the Sun Times, the UFC “made a total of $30,100 in campaign contributions to 23 state officeholders” in Illinois and former governor (and crazy person of a totally different variety) Rod Blagojevich writes in a recently published book that he “signed the legislation legalizing mixed martial arts to score points with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, the real-life model for the character Ari Gold in the HBO series ‘Entourage.’” Ari Emanuel reportedly owns a talent agency which lists Zuffa as one of its clients.
UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta are also – as billionaires often are – pretty into the campaign contribution scene. Check out a list of some of their donations right here. From the looks of it, they’re both pretty high on Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (the politician reportedly chiefly responsible for deregulating the dietary supplement industry) and Nevada Senator John Ensign, a probable Republican presidential hopeful in 2012.
And all of that is to say nothing of what’s going on in Canada, where the lobbyists Zuffa hired to promote MMA in Ontario are now reportedly advertising a $250-a-ticket fundraiser for the provincial Premier who OK’ed the sport’s sanctioning there, prompting an investigation.
So, what’s this all mean? Well, obviously the UFC isn’t doing anything wrong by contributing to the political campaigns of people it thinks will help further its agenda. Nevertheless it should make you smile the next time you hear Dana White referring to state athletic commissions as “The Government” and acting like the UFC couldn’t possibly do anything to sway the way they oversee MMA.
Basically, Zuffa wants to play both sides of the fence here. When the topic is drug testing the UFC wants us to believe it would love to clean up the sport, but is totally powerless to do anything about it. However, when the topic is, say, opening up the lucrative markets of NYC, Chicago and Toronto to MMA, Zuffa isn’t afraid to whip out the wallet and get its hands plenty dirty. It doesn’t seem like both things can be true.