Tuesday, March 11, 2008

UFC Has Fighters Fold Hands And Look Straight Ahead

The photos above are both of UFC Light Heavyweight Keith Jardine. Can you guess which one is from the UFC's new campaign to legalize MMA in New York? If you chose the one on the left, in which a blood-spattered Jardine, hissing like some kind of demonic leprechaun, looks like he's about to decapitate Chuck Liddell, you guessed wrong. If you chose the one on the right, in which Jardine appears to be posing for an 'Employee Of The Month' plaque at Best Buy, you are correct.

Zuffa's website, MMAfacts.com, is the public component of the corporation's campaign to repeal former governor George Pataki's wrongheaded MMA ban. His mesmerizing and fluid rhetoric on full display, Pataki said at the time, "To have someone who wins by using choke holds and kicking people while they are down is not someone our children should be looking to emulate."

Like Pataki, the "MMA Facts" website makes for a pretty slow-moving target. It's about as persuasive as a D.A.R.E. ad and it reads like an undergrad marketing paper, so I'll just point out one particularly choice element. The section entitled "The Fans", which claims to show that "mixed martial arts draws [a] diverse and enthusiastic fan base", features a large-scale photo of a remarkably homogenous crowd consisting almost entirely of lily white frat boys, captioned by this gem: "The fans of Mixed Martial Arts include women, families, celebrities, and members of both the middle and upper classes."

Aside from the seemingly equal value given to women and celebrities (who, last I checked, don't quite make up half the human population), it's worth pointing out that boxing has been kept alive for the last century or so with the hard-earned dollars of the working class, members of which have also been known to attend MMA fights. But maybe that's unlikely to persuade New York lawmakers, who Zuffa apparently believes will be more impressed by a list of celebrity attendees, including such luminaries as Nick Lachey and Barry Bonds.

But the website is just the public face of a behind-the-scenes campaign that began in the fall. According to the NY Times, "In November, Zuffa retained the Albany lobbying firm Brown, McMahon & Weinraub for $10,000 a month, state records show. Then it hired a political consulting firm used by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Global Strategy Group, for media relations. For good measure, the company made a $25,000 donation to the state Democratic Party in mid-January."

Let me see if I've got this right: Las Vegas casino owners, formerly major supporters of Rudy Giuliani, drop 25 grand on the Democratic Party? Hire a consulting firm close to ethical paragon Eliot Spitzer? Spend 10 Gs a month on grease-palmed lobbyists?

In a rapidly changing world, it's comforting to know there are some things that will never change, like Albany being the private slush fund of New York's political class.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled Zuffa is playing the game. MMA fans aren't exactly the grassroots campaigning type, so without the Fertitta brothers and their coin, the sport would probably never make it into the Garden. Still, you can't help but feel a little queezy at the way it's getting done.

Bonus photo from "MMA Facts", just because it's hilarious:

"I don't know man, are you sure this haircut takes the focus off my ears?"

Best caption posted in the comments section gets ten thousand bonus points.

No comments: