MMA’s most formidable foe now squares off with an even more intimidating three-letter initialism: the FBI.
Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York state assembly, allegedly received payments, dubbed “substantial” by the New York Times, from a two-man law firm that specializes in reducing the tax burdens of their clients. Silver’s alleged failure to declare the payments on his financial disclosure forms piqued the curiosity of watchdogs, including the sharp-fanged one in Washington. The feds seek to discover just what, precisely, the personal-injury-attorney-turned-politician did for the tax-law firm that necessitated generous remuneration, and why he allegedly didn’t publicly report it.
As the FBI looks to pressure the powerful Democrat to tap out in a corruption investigation, the UFC sees an opportunity for its sport to receive approval and regulation from the last holdout against mixed-martial arts (MMA) in America.
“Absolutely,” UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein tells Breitbart Sports about viewing 2015 as the year to extend the promotion’s empire to the Empire State. “It’s not dependent on Speaker Silver and whatever happens with any investigations that are taking place.”
But the kind of back-room politics allegedly involved in the federal investigation relates directly to the effort by Silver to block a vote giving the green light to MMA despite on-the-record support from well over a hundred legislators. “It has nothing to do with the merits about whether MMA should be regulated in the state of New York and everything to do with a labor organization effort in Las Vegas, Nevada,” Epstein tells Breitbart Sports. “The underlying issue, as crazy as it sounds, relates to a union organizing in Nevada.”
A labor effort to organize Station Casinos, owned by the same Fertitta family that owns most of the UFC, stalled. “The union has given up on organizing the workers,” Epstein tells Breitbart Sports. “What they’ve done is switch to a corporate campaign.” By “corporate campaign,” Epstein means activism to create problems for the casino owners resisting unionization.
As new members with fresh ideas settle into their seats in Albany, the UFC sees an opportunity to finally win approval from the state. They’re looking to aggressively push their case with the politicians in 2015. But if the efforts of MMA enthusiasts again hit a roadblock in the legislature, the courts may provide redress.
“In addition to what we have going on in the legislative arena, we have a lot of interesting things going on in the legal arena,” the promotion’s COO reports. “We filed a lawsuit challenging the law banning MMA.” Calling the ban “constitutionally vague,” Epstein notes that the “sport is safe.” Others find the athletic commission’s approval of boxing and other combat sports perplexing in light of it frowning upon MMA.
“We only want to go to states where there is an active, regulatory presence,” Epstein maintains. “What we really want is for mixed martial arts to be actively regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission.”
Powerful Democrat Sheldon Silver, reelected to an eleventh term as speaker by a commanding majority earlier this month, has prevented that from happening.
Just as the speaker’s foes see something rich in a longtime proponent of higher taxes facing an investigation into his alleged role in finding tax breaks for businesses that lined his pockets, MMA’s friends see potential vindication in their opponent facing a federal investigation into possible abuse of office. Long before the Justice Department’s interest in Silver’s business activities, prominent mixed-martial artists cited corruption as the reason for the state’s refusal to sanction the sport.
“The reason MMA is not sanctioned in New York is because there is a lot of money from the culinary unions who have an old grudge with the Fertittas about Station Casinos not using the culinary unions in Las Vegas,” Urijah Faber told Breitbart Sports in Madison Square Garden last year. “It’s corrupt. It’s wrong. It’s something that everyone should be ashamed of if you’re a part of it.”