Move Over, Nascar!

by A. J. Delgado

Why mixed martial arts is the true conservative sport.

‘Cage fighting? Hmm, sorry, not my thing.” Such was my reaction when my sister and brother-in-law first suggested I watch a mixed martial arts (MMA) match. Despite my preconceived notions, I grudgingly agreed, and as I learned more about MMA and its largest organization, the UFC (Ultimate Fighter Championship), it became clear that this, folks, is the sport for conservatives. A bold claim, yes, but consider these five arguments:

1) It’s conservative philosophy manifested in a sport.

Watch any UFC fight. It is conservatism, capitalism at its core, illustrated through a sport. There are no unions here; there are no safety nets (literally, yes; figuratively, no); there are no multi-year contracts and no guarantees regardless of outcome; in an age where liberals strive to downplay differences between genders, it boldly glorifies the alpha-male and warrior mentality; there is no team — it is all focused on the individual and his personal responsibility (Ayn Rand would be front and center at a fight). Its essence: two men in an octagon. He who works and fights hardest comes out on top. In other words, American meritocracy in its purest form.

Indeed, the UFC’s tale is straight out of a capitalism storybook. A decade ago, Dana White, UFC’s president and the worldwide face of MMA, was a 32-year-old Las Vegas gym owner, trainer, and MMA-fighter manager. In 2001 he heard the bankrupt UFC was up for sale. (John McCain’s 1996 campaign against “human cockfighting” and various states’ bans had dried up much of the sport’s audience and venues.) Realizing mixed martial arts’ heretofore untapped potential, White phoned his childhood friend, Lorenzo Fertitta, of the successful casino-gaming family. Within one month, Lorenzo and his brother, Frank, formed Zuffa LLC along with Dana and purchased the UFC for a mere $2 million. They wisely invested another $44 million in it, as well as much hard work and brilliance, and the company is now worth an estimated $1 billion. Under Dana’s leadership, UFC broadcasts are now viewed in 155 countries and territories, in 22 languages, and in 500 million homes, making it the fastest-growing sport in the world. Six months ago, Fox signed a seven-year deal with the UFC, bringing matches to network television for the first time ever.

2) The UFC boasts a disproportionately high number of outspoken conservative fighters.

Though most celebrities, particularly professional athletes, shy away from publicizing their political views, such is not the case in MMA. On the contrary, the UFC has many outspoken conservatives. The most notable of these is one of the UFC’s biggest stars, Chael Sonnen, a staunch Republican who routinely voices his views, ran for public office, and once famously tweeted: “Please, FB nerds, no group has the strength to lynch me. I’m a Republican; we run on neither blood nor oxygen.” Others who have espoused conservative leanings include Chuck Lidell, Jacob Volkmann, Matt Lindland, Pat Miletich, Brian Stann, and Brock Lesnar.

While interviewing Chael Sonnen earlier this month, I asked why there are so many conservative fighters in MMA. Sonnen (who will fight on FOX this Saturday) explained: “Part of being a liberal is to not take a stand on anything. Part of being a liberal is to just say, ‘Yeah, do anything you want.’ It’s having no convictions, it’s not standing up, it’s not putting your foot down. It’s ‘Go with the flow and do what you want.’ And if you’re an MMA guy, you’re a tough guy; if you’re a tough guy, you generally have courage; and if you have courage, you’re not afraid to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong.’ And if you’re a person who’s willing to do that, for the most part, that makes you a conservative.”

While Dana White keeps his political views private, he provided a glimpse of them while blasting President Obama’s anti-business policies during a July 2011 appearance on Brian Kilmeade’s radio show (Kilmeade, of Fox & Friends, is an MMA fan). When asked what Washington can do to help boost the economy, White vented: “I have no idea what can be done other than — get somebody else in there! It’s scary right now what’s happening in this country. He [Obama] just came out recently, too, and talked about [how] the problem in this country is private airplanes. What?! The problem with this country is private airplanes? Everything this guy [Obama] says and attacks is an industry where people work and have money. . . This guy is anti-business. . . . This country is against building big business now! Which is insane!”

3) The UFC staunchly supports U.S. military personnel and veterans.

When has any professional athletic league or organization made it a point to openly and continuously support the U.S. military and its veterans? Well, the UFC does! In 2006, it held a special-event fight at the Marine Corps base in Miramar, Calif. All seats, save for five pairs of tickets auctioned to the public, were generously allotted to military personnel, and auction proceeds went to the Marine Corps Community Services Quality of Life Programs.

Subsequently, in collaboration with the renowned Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF), the UFC began UFC: Fight for the Troops, a benefit fight and telethon of sorts for the military. The first of these special events, held at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2008, raised $4 million for IFHF’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence, dedicated to the research and treatment of military personnel’s brain injuries. Indeed, IFHF notes they continue to receive funds to this day from individuals who learned of the cause due to the Fort Bragg fight.

A second UFC: Fight for the Troops, held last year at Fort Hood, Texas, raised $4.1 million for the Center. As Marty Edelman, trustee of the IFHF, notes: “The UFC have been our partners in this endeavor [the Center] from the beginning. They’re devoted to America’s troops, they come to these events, they help us create them, and we wouldn’t be doing this without them today.” (A third UFC: Fight for the Troops is likely to take place this year.) Additionally, as part of the UFC’s continued efforts to support the armed forces, it recently partnered with The Boot Campaign and The Lone Survivor Foundation.

4) Unions hate it.

Forget the fact that UFC fighters have no union, unlike other major sports organizations such as the NBA and the NFL. It goes deeper. Ever wonder why there’s never been an MMA match at Madison Square Garden, or anywhere in New York State? Thank the unions and their notorious strong-arm tactics.

While professional MMA competitions are allowed in nearly all states, only three hold out, and New York is the firmest of all (the others are Connecticut and Vermont). As Lorenzo Fertitta explained: “The fact that MMA is not legal in New York is solely because of the Culinary Union.” Wait, what?

Fertitta is referring to the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, a 60,000-member union in Nevada representing those in the hospitality industry, mostly casino employees. Through Zuffa, the Fertitta brothers are the majority shareholders of the UFC. Frank is also CEO/chairman of Station Casinos Inc., the Fertitta family business started by his grandfather in 1976 with a mere 90 employees, which grew into a nearly $1 billion company with 13,000 employees — employees who have elected not to unionize, making Station Casinos the largest non-union gaming company in the country — the Walmart of the gaming world, if you will. Safe to say, the Fertittas are not on any union bosses’ Christmas list.

For 30 years, the Culinary Union has tried unsuccessfully to unionize Station Casinos’ employees. So, in an apparent effort to put pressure on the Fertittas (or to exact a bit of retribution), the Culinary Union has made it a point to prevent MMA’s legalization, using its affiliates’ substantial political power in New York. Indeed, the Culinary Union appears to be conducting a broad campaign of harassment to make the Fertittas cave in, filing a request with the Federal Trade Commission last year to have Zuffa investigated for its business practices and even waging a bizarre PR campaign claiming the UFC is homophobic, based on a few offhand remarks made by fighters over a span of years.

Despite MMA-legalization legislation voted on and approved by the New York state senate three times, the assembly has repeatedly refused to vote on the matter. Democratic assemblyman Bob Reilly, the staunchest legalization opponent, repeatedly claims his opposition is based on the “violence” of the sport. Yet such claims ring hollow. A study by John Hopkins University concluded that the injury rate in MMA competitions is similar to those in other combat sports and, in fact, knockout rates are lower than in boxing, as are risks of brain injury. Giving Reilly’s safety concerns the benefit of the doubt (and ignoring the significant donations his campaigns received from unions), the question remains — why not at least allow a vote? Understandably fed up, in November Zuffa filed a lawsuit against the State of New York, alleging that New York’s ban on MMA is unconstitutional.

As is often the case with unions, they are not only working against the interests of their dues-paying members (those in the hospitality industry would greatly benefit from MMA events) but also against those of the state as a whole, for legalizing MMA would create a much-needed source of revenue. Take, for example, a recent MMA match in Toronto: The city received over $1 million in tax revenue, union workers were paid $1.5 million, and tourists attending the event stayed in hotels, shopped at malls, and ate at local restaurants, benefiting a myriad of local businesses. The total impact one MMA weekend had on the city? $45 million.

5) Oh, and the Left in general hates it, too.

Are there liberal MMA fans? Of course! But does the liberal elite care for it? Nope. Case in point: When reviewing 2011’s Warrior (a sort of Rocky set in the MMA world), Salon’s reviewer sneered that it was a “Tea Party-friendly fantasy.” And when Entertainment Weekly polled conservatives and liberals regarding each group’s favorite and least-favorite television shows, guess what popped up on liberals’ “yuck” list? Ultimate Fighter, the reality show where fighters compete for a UFC contract (now entering its 15th season). No surprise there.

So, strap on that CobraKai patch, turn the cap backwards à la Over the Top, blast “Eye of the Tiger,” and take note: The next great sport to appeal to the Right . . . is this.

For while MMA isn’t a sport consisting purely of conservatives, it’s certainly the sport for conservatives.

— A. J. Delgado is a graduate of Harvard Law School who splits her time between New York and Miami. She may be reached via Twitter: @MissADelgado