For six years, the behind-the-scenes war between the UFC and the Culinary Workers Union of Las Vegas has kept professional mixed martial arts out of New York.
The idea that this is still the case in 2015, where a sport that is on television on multiple stations every weekend is not allowed in arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, and instead runs across the state borders in New Jersey, makes little sense. New York has MMA shows all over the state, but the only way to legally run is to have them be amateur shows, which are unregulated.
For years, the entire sport of MMA in New York, from small promoters to big ones, has become a pawn in the battle in Nevada to get the Station Casino chain, run by UFC part-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, to unionize.
For the last several years, the New York State Senate has passed a bill to legalize and regulate the sport under the athletic commission. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated for years he would sign such a bill. So the battle has taken place in the state assembly, with UFC failing annually.
Marc Ratner, the UFC's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, the point man in the company in this frustrating battle, has noted for years that they have had enough votes in the assembly to pass the bill, but the problem has always been they simply couldn't get a vote. For years the holdup was assembly speaker Sheldon Silver holding up the process and blocking the bill being voted on. With Silver resigning his post in February to defend himself against corruption charges, Ratner had used the term "cautiously optimistic" regarding the idea that 2015 would be the year.
UFC has booked a show to kick things off on Dec. 5 in Madison Square Garden, but they have booked the Garden in the past, only to have to cancel when the legislation hasn't passed.
Ratner is using a football analogy for the current situation, saying the ball is on the one-yard line, but the clock is also ticking.
"I've gone from cautiously optimistic to cautiously pessimistic, but today I'm hopeful," said Ratner.
The problem that threatened the bill this year wasn't that the votes weren't there to pass, but once again, a political issue of having enough Democratic votes to force a vote. Ratner said that they need 76 votes. They had 71 a few weeks ago, and were working on some swing votes.
"We think we have them," he said Monday, noting the tide had just turned, but also noted it could turn the other way tomorrow. "I'm a little more optimistic. I didn't think we had a chance on Saturday."
Ratner expects the Culinary Workers Union to go all-out to try and pressure the Labor-friendly Democrats to ice the bill over the next day or two. The assembly session is scheduled to end Wednesday, but it could be extended another day or two to pass into law a number of bills that are of far higher priority. But the time limit is a few days away under any circumstances, and if the bill doesn't pass the assembly by Thursday or Friday, they have to start the process again in 2016.
Ratner isn't worried about the actual vote, noting that they believed they had the votes to pass in previous years, and out of 150 assemblymen, he believes, including Republicans, that they have more than 100 votes.
What has changed things and added the necessary Democratic party consensus support are new amendments put in a revised bill last week, which include promoters needing more insurance coverage to be allowed to promote shows, as well as giving the athletic commission full power to regulate amateur fights in the state.
MMA will also be taxed hard. The bill calls for an 8.5 percent tax on the live gate and a three percent tax on any television or pay-per-view revenue. Most states tax significantly less, and only a few tax television and pay-per-view revenue. The maximum tax on the gate and the television and pay-per-view revenue would have a ceiling of $50,000 in each category.
In comparison, both pro boxing and pro wrestling, which are currently regulated in New York by the athletic commission, only has to pay a three percent live gate tax and has a similar television and pay-per-view tax.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta had promised lawmakers a minimum of four shows a year in New York for the next few years if the bill was passed, which would include events not only at the Garden and Barclays Center, but regular events in upstate New York.