Daily Archives: July 12, 2009

Ultimate Fighting Championship More Than Human Cockfighting

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was once brashly branded by U.S. Senator John McCain as “human cockfighting” and the sport was scorned by many, even banned from television networks. 

Fast forward, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting is now sanctioned in every state with an athletic commission, except New York. 

What was once a fledging sport trying to survive when it first appeared at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip in late September 2001, is a booming multibillion dollar industry. 

Las Vegas brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and a street-smart former boxing promoter named Dana White were riding the tide to something big back then– less than eight years later, the UFC staged the biggest, most lucrative event in its history: UFCs 100th contest last night at the Mandalay Bay. 

Tickets for Saturday night’s championship were snapped up in minutes, and some ringside seats sold on StubHub this week for $45,000 each. The UFC’s pay-per-view audience surpassed boxing and World Wrestling Entertainment for the first time in 2006. 

The pugilistic contest saw heavyweight champion Brock Lesna unmercifully pummel Las Vegas Frank Mir with staccato right hands in the second round and emerge victorious in the octagon, avenging his only prior professional loss, which came against Mir last year. UFC2

The sport has worldwide appeal and is experiencing unprecedented growth. The UFC organization has expanded to England and Germany, and is poised to take on France and Australia next. There is even an unquestionable fever for it in Canada, and a palpable sense of momentum for a company that just five years ago was more than $40 million in debt. 

“All the things going on right now, whether it’s UFC 100 or going to Germany for the first time, it’s really the way it’s been for us the last nine years,” White told The Associated Press recently. “The great thing about this sport, it transcends all cultural barriers, language barriers, because I don’t care what language you speak, what color you are, what country you’re from, at the end of the day we’re all human beings. Fighting is in our DNA.” 

The UFC began in 1993 as a tournament to crown the world’s best fighting style, featuring everything from boxers to a sumo wrestler. There were no weight classes, gloves or rounds. There was no judging and virtually no rules. The only way to win was by knocking out your opponent or making them quit, which is precisely what a scrawny jujitsu expert named Royce Gracie did. 

Dozens of states quickly enacted laws banning “no-holds-barred” fighting, abhorred by the thought of humans fighting inside an eight-sided cage. Even though limited rules and gloves were introduced, the organization stood on the brink of bankruptcy. 

That’s when White brought the concept to the Fertittas, a pair of casino executives he’d known since high school. They purchased the UFC for $2 million in 2001 and immediately went to work getting the sport sanctioned. Universal rules were put in place, allowing shows to be held for the first time in casinos in Nevada and New Jersey. 

“When we bought this company, especially my partners, they had a lot of people working for them and they thought this was probably the dumbest business investment ever,” says White, the UFC president. “We believed in it. We were passionate about the sport.” 

But passion only goes so far. By 2004, parent company Zuffa LLC still couldn’t climb out of the red. The Fertittas nearly gave up, and White frantically tried to secure funding to press on. 

Everything changed when the trio came up with “The Ultimate Fighter,” couching the sport in a reality TV format. The cable show was an instant hit, and the sport quickly began to slice into boxing’s fan base, which had long grown stagnant.

Stars like Las Vegans Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture were born, and an entire industry sprouted nearly over night. Nearly ever major event is now sold out, and a sport that corporate American once refused to touch has credibility with mainstream sponsors like Harley-Davidson and Budweiser. 

The new “UFC: Undisputed” video game sold a 1 million copies its first week.

“Having ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ was the thing that did it for us, live fighting on TV,” says Liddell, who was recently inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame. “That’s what we had to do, was get a live fight on TV. It couldn’t have worked out better.” 

Each of the Fertittas now own 45 percent of Zuffa LLC, while White owns 10 percent. Before the recession hit, the company was estimated to be worth close to $1 billion. 

Business advisory firm Applied Analysis in Las Vegas recently completed an economic impact study of the UFC on Las Vegas, which has been severely affected by the crumbling economy, and found it generated $86.2 million in nongaming revenue for six events held last year and early this year. 

White believes it’s his responsibility to safeguard a sport that he has grown and nurtured almost from the beginning, and has given him so much in return: financial security, a 7,500-square-foot home, worldwide attention. 

“Is it going to become stale, are people going to become tired of it? Hell no,” he says. “Is there too much football on TV? Is there too much baseball on TV? People want to see great fights, and if we put together the best fights with the best fighters in the world, this is going to continue to grow and grow and grow.”

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Las Vegas Street Performers Ready Courtroom Act

It the not too distant past it was a common and welcome sight to see street performers performing their shtick along the Las Vegas Strip, serving as eye and ear candy for weary travelers traversing the Sin City byways in searing heat.  

Now the historic forms of grass roots entertainment have largely diminished, if not totally disappeared from the Las Vegas landscape. 

But the times may be changing. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against police and public officials on behalf of two Las Vegas Strip street performers after one was arrested in March. 

ACLU lawyer Maggie McLetchie says the federal lawsuit was filed last Thursday on behalf of guitarist Suze Banasik and Elvis Presley impersonator Bill Jablonski to support free speech and free expression rights for street performers on the resort-lined Strip. street

The 45-year-old Banasik was jailed for 12 hours on obstructing a sidewalk and operating a business without a license charges before Clark County prosecutors dropped the charges. 

The ACLU has fought and won similar First Amendment battles for handbill distributors, political activists and street preachers on the Strip and at the downtown Fremont Street Experience casino mall. 

“They think each new type of expression they can suppress, and we have to go to court for each of those, and the results are always the same,” Las Vegas ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein said. 

The new lawsuit accuses Las Vegas police of harassing street performers, also known as buskers, on the Strip.  The lawsuit names the Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Doug Gillespie and three other Las Vegas police officers, Clark County, District Attorney David Roger and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto as defendants. 

ACLU attorney Maggie McLetchie said her group accepted the case “because street performers have free speech rights and the right to free expression, including on the Strip.” 

“Cases that were litigated have made clear that the sidewalks on the Las Vegas Strip are a public forum,” she said. “Despite this fact, we received a number of complaints from street performers that Metro was telling them they couldn’t perform.” 

Banasik and Jablonski both said they entertain tourists simply for the joy of it. They consider any tips they receive a bonus. 

ACLU attorneys say case law protects the performers’ activities even if they solicit money. 

“Lots of cases make clear that the only thing you could really limit is aggressive panhandling,” McLetchie said. 

Lichtenstein said such harassment has a “chilling effect” that keeps other performers away out of a fear that they will be cited or arrested. 

“For well over a decade, there’s been this attempt to make the sidewalks up and down Las Vegas Boulevard on the Strip the private domain of the hotel-casinos and their interests,” Lichtenstein said. “And the fact that the police continue to think that it’s more important to serve those interests rather than to protect the rights of free speech on those sidewalks as ordered by federal courts is disheartening.”

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